HSBC putting China's interests above exiled Hong Kong customers, UK lawmakers say

People walk outside one of the branches of HSBC in Hong Kong
People walk outside one of the branches of HSBC in Hong Kong March 4, 2013. REUTERS/Bobby Yip (CHINA - Tags: BUSINESS)

LONDON, Feb 8 (Reuters) - British lawmakers have accused HSBC of mistreating customers who have fled Hong Kong in the wake of China's anti-democracy crackdown, to protect the bank's profits and curry favour with the Chinese government, a report on Wednesday showed.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong said the lender had blocked some overseas residents of the former British colony from withdrawing pension contributions made to the island's Mandatory Provident Fund, despite deciding to quit Hong Kong.

"Like all banks, we have to obey the law, and the instructions of the regulators, in every territory in which we operate," a spokesperson for HSBC said.

Thousands of Hong Kongers have begun new lives in Britain since the passing of the National Security Law (NSL) in 2020. The law criminalised acts of dissent, protest and disobedience and has been broadly interpreted by critics as Beijing's key weapon against pro-democracy movements in the region.

Under the NSL, individuals found guilty of collusion with foreign powers or for breaking away from the country, face lengthy prison terms, making ex-Hong Kong residents who accepted Britain's invitation to relocate to the UK particularly vulnerable.

HSBC, which makes around two-thirds of its profits from Hong Kong, has refused to recognise the documentation of some customers in actions that infringed their human rights, the lawmakers said in the report.

"The bank's reliance on Hong Kong as a profit-hub means it cannot afford to attract Beijing's ire, and there have been a number of decisions where it has been forced to endorse the Chinese Communist party line," the report said.

HSBC said it was just following local rules, which would not accept British National (Overseas) passports as evidence of the right to withdraw the pension funds.

The lawmakers called on the government to seek clarity from banks on what paperwork they would accept from former Hong Kong residents wishing to withdraw their savings.

It also demanded that banks unfreeze the accounts of political activists considered central to the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Reporting By Sinead Cruise, additional reporting by Lawrence White; Editing by Arun Koyyur

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