Another month and another scandal with the banks — now centred on HSBC. After seven years of being told that “reforms” had been made, a “new start” acted on, “fundamental changes in the culture” made, new “super clean” managers with “openness and integrity” brought in…and we are back to the same old corrupt world of British banking.
HSBC head Stuart Gulliver was hired in 2011 to oversee a new era of “clean banking”. He has now been exposed as one who, for tax purposes, is registered as living in Hong Kong. It transpires that he made use of the services provided by HSBC’s private Swiss bank — via a company registered in Panama. New boss, same old practises.
This latest scandal of tax-dodging Swiss banks is only the most recent entry in the league of dodgy dealings — foreign exchange rate rigging, money laundering, tax evasion, PPI miss-selling. Trying to keep up with the number of scandals can leave one feeling a little giddy. The Financial Times estimated that such schemes have allowed the global rich to avoid taxes to the tune of some £100 billion a year. It is harder to estimate the damage done to lost production and waste created by the financial crisis and the banks’ “solution” of austerity for all, except of course to the banks’ bottom line.
None of the bosses overseeing all this have gone to prison or been held to account on any level, for any of it. Some poor wretch “stealing” £100 from welfare for food or some such luxuries would be swiftly marched off to jail. Yet the bankers organising tax avoidance on an industrial scale face the embarrassment of a newspaper or TV exposé, followed by a golden handshake. At worst they might lose their chance of a knighthood.
Even the Guardian and some on the left of the Labour Party are beginning to ask whether it is not just a question of the odd “bad apple” or the “misguided culture” of some boardrooms. The whole financial industry following Margaret Thatcher’s Big Bang of the 1980s is rotten. It was under her reign that the City of London became the tax dodge capital of the world. Lauded as Britain’s “success in the 21st century” the financial sector is based on suspect, devious and sometimes fraudulent practises.
No wonder Russia’s oligarchs consider London their spiritual home.