HSBC creates committee to fight financial crime

LONDON (AFP) - HSBC on Wednesday said it had formed a board committee tasked with tackling financial crime, after the global banking giant was recently hit with huge fines to settle allegations of money laundering.

The Asia focused bank that is headquartered in London added in a statement that it had hired former US Deputy Attorney General James Comey to join the newly-created Financial System Vulnerabilities Committee.

"The new committee, which will benefit from the experience of the expert advisers, will provide invaluable guidance and advice as we strengthen our capabilities and enforce the highest standards, in particular in relation to combating financial crime," HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver said in the statement.

"The calibre, status and experience of the individuals reinforce once more how seriously we are taking this," he added.

Also on the committee would be Dave Hartnett, previously a senior figure at Britain's tax-collecting body, HM Revenue & Customs - and Bill Hughes, the former head of the country's Serious Organised Crime Agency.

HSBC last month said it would pay US authorities a record US$1.92 billion (S$2.37 billion) to settle allegations of money laundering that were said to have helped Mexican drug cartels, terrorists and Iran.

The bank in December admitted to having "inadequate" controls in place, accepted responsibility for the group's past mistakes and added that it would finalise a deal soon with Britain's Financial Services Authority watchdog.

The global giant was thrown into crisis last year when a US Senate report found it had allowed affiliates in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Bangladesh to move billions of dollars in suspect funds into the US without adequate controls.

Among the US Senate findings, revealed in July, was the revelation that HSBC and its US affiliate concealed more than US$16 billion in sensitive transactions to Iran, skirting US sanctions on the country for a six-year period.

The firm soon afterwards apologised for failing to apply anti-laundering rules and David Bagley, head of group compliance, was forced to resign.