The revelations of greed and cynical immorality, with the ex-clergyman Lord Green topping the bill, keep pouring out of this HSBC Swiss bank scandal, one of the biggest of the last few decades since this is probably only the tip of the iceberg on bank wrongdoing in this no-holds-barred era of crooked capitalism. The facts are now indisputable. After the French IT specialist who hacked into the accounts of 130,000 wealthy clients, fled with the evidence and handed it over to French tax investigators in December 2008, the French then handed a reconstructed UK version of the data to HMRC in May 2010, precisely the month when power changed hands to the Tories. Green, who had been chief executive of HSBC from 2003-6 and then its chairman till 2010, was almost immediately given a peerage and then persuaded by Cameron to become a Tory trade minister. This leaves several questions to be answered.
Why did Cameron go ahead with the promotion of Green when there was abundant evidence known to the government that an orgy of wrongdoing had polluted HSBC during precisely the years when Green was at its helm? This does cast serious doubt on Cameron’s judgement and integrity. He appointed Andy Coulson to Downing Street when there was strong suspicion he had presided over widespread hacking when he was editor of the News of the World, and now we know he appointed Green as a Minister when a huge cache of information implicated him in an enormous financial scandal.
Of course Cameron is now saying that neither he nor any other Minister, including Lord Green, knew about this scandal till this week. It is extremely difficult to believe this. Information as explosive as this about Britain’s biggest bank would undoubtedly be passed by HMRC to its Minister, Osborne, and given the gravity of the charges copied on to the Prime Minister. It is equally difficult to believe that Green was not fully conversant with the scandal when he himself was at the helm of HSBC when the bank tried to use the French courts to prevent the transfer of data revealing alleged tax evasion by its wealthy clients to HMRC. It is just not credible that Green as the chief executive of the bank would not know about such a legal intervention with such high stakes as well as the reasons behind it.
The last thread in this Establishment cover-up and closing of ranks between Downing Street and the banks is that HMRC received the information about the massive tax avoidance activities at the HSBC Swiss private bank on condition that it could only use it for tackling tax evasion, and it could not pass it to the law enforcement authorities. This is preposterous. What conceivable motive could the French tax collection agency have for imposing such a perverse restriction?