LONDON (Reuters) – HSBC is “not in a position to judge the motives” of Hong Kong police, Chief Executive Noel Quinn told British lawmakers questioning him over the lender’s freezing of bank accounts of pro-democracy politicians in the Asian city.
The HSBC CEO’s summons to face the cross-party Foreign Affairs Committee came after former Hong Kong lawmaker Ted Hui criticised HSBC for blocking his local bank accounts.
“I can’t cherry-pick which laws to follow,” Quinn said, adding that the bank would have to comply with police requests in any country in the world.
When pressed by lawmakers whether HSBC would ever deny police requests on ethical grounds, Quinn said he was not considering this in Hong Kong.
“If you’re asking am I willing to walk away from Hong Kong? The answer is no. We’re too committed through our history and heritage.”
Quinn had written to Hui, in a rare move by a bank boss to an individual customer, to argue that the bank had no choice and was complying with a police request.
The grilling from British lawmakers saw HSBC yet again dragged into the political battle between Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing and Democratic factions, as well as the wider tensions between China and the West over the city’s future.
Founded in Hong Kong but headquartered in Britain, HSBC has historically tried to remain politically neutral but more recently shown support for Beijing, most notably last June when its top executive in Asia signed a petition backing China’s imposition of a national security law on Hong Kong.
(Reporting by Lawrence White and Iain Withers; Editing by Bernadette Baum)