UK Labour leader says HSBC enabled tax avoidance on an ‘industrial scale’

Britain’s Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband alleges that HSBC bank enabled tax avoidance on an industrial scale. British Prime Minister David Cameron says that “every proper process” was followed when he appointed Stephen Green, HSBC’s former executive chairman, to be a trade minister in 2010.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UK (FEBRUARY 11, 2015) (PARLIAMENT TV) – HSBC bank enabled tax avoidance on an industrial scale, Britain’s Labour opposition leader Ed Miliband alleged on Wednesday (February 11).

Addressing Prime Minister David Cameron during a weekly questions session in parliament Miliband said: “It was in the public domain in September 2010 that HSBC was enabling tax avoidance on an industrial scale. Are we seriously expected to believe that when he made Stephen Green a minister four months later he had no idea about these allegations?”

Green was chief executive and subsequently executive chairman of HSBC when much of the alleged evasion occurred. Cameron later made him a trade minister and put him in the British upper house of parliament.

After the leak this month of its Swiss bank’s customer list, HSBC said its Swiss arm had not been fully integrated after its purchase in 1999, allowing significantly lower standards of compliance and due diligence to persist.

So far, Green, 66, has declined to comment.

Cameron did not directly answer Miliband’s question, merely noting that former Labour leader Gordon Brown had appointed Green as one of his senior business advisors.

“This is the same Stephen Green who Gordon Brown appointed as the head of his business advisory council. This is the same Stephen Green who Labour welcomed as a trade minister into the government. And it’s the same Stephen Green who the shadow business secretary, looking about coy today, invited on a trade mission as late as 2013. We know what happens Mr. Speaker every week he gets more desperate because he can’t talk about the economy, he can’t talk about unemployment so he comes here with fiction after fiction.”

Cameron said “every proper process” was followed when he appointed Green.

Under pressure in parliament from the opposition Labour Party over the appointment in the light of a tax scandal engulfing HSBC’s Swiss operations, Cameron noted that Labour had welcomed Green’s appointment at the time and “three years later they were still holding meetings with him.”

Cameron said: “When I appointed Stephen Green, every proper process was followed, I consulted the Cabinet secretary, I consulted the director for propriety and ethics, and of course the House of Lords appointments commission now looks at someone’s individual tax affairs before giving them a peerage.”

Green, a British peer, is no longer a minister.

A panel of British lawmakers said earlier this week they planned to open an inquiry into HSBC Holdings Plc, after media reports that the bank helped wealthy customers dodge taxes and conceal millions of dollars of assets.

It has not yet disclosed who it would like to question.

Cameron would support Green going before the lawmakers to answer questions about what he knew about tax avoidance at the bank’s Swiss arm, his spokesman suggested on Wednesday.

Asked on Wednesday if Cameron felt it would be useful for Green to appear before a parliamentary committee to explain what he knew about possible wrongdoing at HSBC’s Swiss arm, his spokesman said it wasn’t a decision for the prime minister but that he favoured people accounting for themselves.