Anti-money laundering has become a holy cow for the banking industry – a cause greater than every principle of human rights or consumer rights put together, placed beyond all accountability, beyond all transparency, and beyond all legitimate livelihoods destroyed in its path.
Yet, it’s an over-ride of all rights that the West has been far too close to, apparently, to ever examine for its absolute abuses: as I have learned first-hand from the world’s largest bank, HSBC.
In fact, HSBC has ruled that I am not a journalist because I write for a Kenyan newspaper, and therefore, its press office will answer no questions. There we are, that’s Africa for you: not real journalists.
I have also learned that to even question whether the world’s banks have been granted excessive and unchecked powers in seizing assets from innocent and legitimate individuals is to effectively declare ‘hey, look at me, I am a criminal, I have questioned HSBC’s anti-money laundering practices’.
Yet, as I have begun to research and understand the law as HSBC is applying it, I wonder how any responsible legislator or regulator anywhere could have facilitated such an abuse of power and accountability as the bank is now exercising.
According to the British media, it’s a new banking approach called ‘derisking’, and HSBC has emerged as the very worst offender, literally messing up the lives of its customers and non-customers alike.
The problem is that HSBC has handled illegal money and been fined for it, repeatedly, as in paying billions of dollars in fines.
So now, all rationality has departed and it has moved to the sublime: it seizes anything it likes, outside all norms of money laundering practice, for as long as it likes, and with any consequences – even as an intermediary bank in a transfer, so the affected don’t at all need to bank with HSBC.
Thus, other banks move in on large transfers, irregular ones, without clear documentation. Not HSBC. It will seize even tiny, routine, regular invoice payments for excessively mundane services, even for internationally listed companies, or the world’s leading philanthropic foundations, for things like media training, or compliance reviews.
It then has no timelines, no service level agreements, no lines of accountability. It employs investigators from firms like Financial Intelligence, who do dumb things like look up beneficiaries’ LinkedIn profiles, and then, according to the British media, sometimes it just closes down accounts and seizes everything in them, for social workers, teachers, professionals in any field.
Great stuff. And we made a global fuss about Facebook’s malpractice with our information?
Yet in this case, legislators and regulators have put in place no boundaries, no parameters, all previous banking law is gone, so long as HSBC calls it anti-money laundering.
The bank could be suffering a horrendous slide in its capital adequacy ratios but could stop a third, half, who knows how much of the international transfers going through it as an intermediary bank and prop up its balance sheet.
So, let us not go there too. Anti-money laundering is not somehow some area where normal checks and balances die.
Our global banks have a very poor record, and I mean extremely bad, in self-regulation.
If Western regulators have become blind in their old age, let us, at least, concentrate our anti-money laundering on the genuine capturing of criminals, and not open up the way to customer and non-customer destruction.
There has to be some burden of proof before the assets of an individual are seized or their banking removed. Just seizing the funds of anyone you don’t fancy is truly dangerous: why do we need to give those rights to banks to stop criminals? I thought we had a criminal justice system.