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HSBC exposed US and possibly India to terror funding

Washington(PTI): Global banking giant HSBC failed in preventing money laundering by drug cartels and terrorists not only in the US, but also other parts of the world, possibly including India, a Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations probe has found.

“HSBC used its US bank as a gateway into the US financial system for some HSBC affiliates around the world to provide US dollar services to clients while playing fast and loose with US banking rules,” Senator Carl Levin, the Chairman of the subcommittee, said following the release of the investigation report in this regard.

According to the report, the Mexican affiliate of HSBC transported USD 7 billion in physical US dollars to HSB-US from 2007 to 2008, outstripping other Mexican banks, even one twice its size, raising red flags that the volume of dollars included proceeds from illegal drug sales in the US.

The investigations found that HSBC, with its headquarters in London, allowed affiliates in countries such as Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh to move billions of dollars in suspect funds into the US without adequate controls.

According to the report running into 340 pages, HSBC in 2009 authorised its affiliate to supply Indian rupees to Saudi Arabia’s Al Rajhi Bank, which, the report said, has links to financing terrorism.

“From 2007 to 2010, HBUS (HSBC-USA) continued to supply, through its London branch, hundreds of millions of US dollars to Al Rajhi Bank in Saudi Arabia.

“In addition, at Al Rajhi Bank’s request, HBUS expanded the relationship in January 2009, by authorising its Hong Kong branch to supply Al Rajhi Bank with non-US currencies, including the Thai bat, Indian rupee, and Hong Kong dollar,” the report said.

However, no further details about the Indian rupees are available in the report.

According to the report, in 2010 HSBC launched a new funds transfer product called ‘HBL Fast Cash’, which was designed to allow the instant transfer of funds from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to any branch of the Habib Bank, the largest bank in Pakistan, whether or not the sender or recipient of the funds had an account in either financial institution.

In a statement, Levin alleged that due to poor anti-money laundering controls, HSBC-US exposed the US to Mexican drug money, suspicious travelers cheques, bearer share corporations, and rogue jurisdictions.

“The bank’s federal bank regulator, the OCC, tolerated HSBC’s weak AML system for years. If an international bank won’t police its own affiliates to stop illicit money, the regulatory agencies should consider whether to revoke the charter of the US bank being used to aid and abet that illicit money,” he said.

Officials of HSBC and officials of the US Department of Treasury and Department of Homeland Security are scheduled to testify before the committee later in the day.The Subcommittee investigation focused on HSBC’s key US affiliate, HSBC Bank USA, N.A., known as HBUS, which functions as the US nexus for HSBC’s worldwide network.

HSBC has 7,200 offices in more than 80 countries. HBUS has 470 branches across the US with 4 million customers.

HBUS provides accounts to 1,200 other banks, including more than 80 HSBC affiliates.

Called correspondent banking, HBUS provides these banks with US dollar services, including services to move funds, exchange currencies, cash monetary instruments, and carry out other financial transactions.

Correspondent banking can become a major conduit for illicit money flows unless US laws to prevent money laundering are followed.

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