‘Daily Telegraph’ accused of removing HSBC ‘black hole’ story from site

Journalist Peter Oborne made allegation in article resigning from newspaper

Oborne alleged that a story about HSBC potentially facing a $70bn capital hole was removed from the ‘Telegraph’ website. Photgraph: Getty Images

Oborne alleged that a story about HSBC potentially facing a $70bn capital hole was removed from the ‘Telegraph’ website. Photgraph: Getty Images

 

One of the things Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph’s former chief political commentator, alleged in his outspoken resignation article this week was that a story about financial analysts claiming there was a “black hole” in HSBC’s accounts was removed from the paper’s website.

Mr Oborne said he had learned that the online story, by the Telegraph’s then banking editor Harry Wilson, was swiftly removed from the website “even though there were no legal problems”.

“Mr Wilson rather bravely raised this issue publicly at the ‘town hall meeting’ when [Telegraph Media Group editor-in-chief] Jason Seiken introduced himself to staff. He has since left the paper,” he added.

Mr Wilson, now City editor of the Times, tweeted a link to the January 2014 story, headlined “HSBC faces £70bn capital hole warn Hong Kong analysts”. The link now goes through to a Telegraph.co.uk page saying “Sorry - we cannot find the page you are looking for”.

However, Mr Wilson’s deleted story is available on other sites which at the time linked to the Telegraph’s coverage.

In the article, Wilson went on to quote from an “incendiary” broker’s note, from two senior analysts at research firm Forensic Asia, saying they believed “HSBC could have overstated its assets by more than £50 billion and ultimately need a capital injection of close to £70 billion before the end of this decade”.

He pointed out that one of the analysts, Andrew Haskins, worked at HSBC for 15 years, while the other author, Thomas Monaco, was “a former senior bank examiner at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and previously worked as a fund manager at FrontPoint Partners, the hedge fund that spotted the US subprime bubble”.

The story also said Forensic Asia “began its coverage of Britain’s largest banking group with a ‘sell’ recommendation, warning the lender had between $63.6bn (€55.9bn) and $92.3bn of ‘questionable assets’ on its balance sheet, ranging from loan loss reserves and accrued interest to deferred tax assets, defined benefit pension schemes and opaque level 3 assets”.

In another tweet Mr Wilson described the analysts’ report as “the most aggressive research report on a bank” he had ever read and said it “has some pretty startling numbers”.

Other news organisations also believed it merited attention. Among those who reported Forensic Asia’s controversial findings were financial news agency Bloomberg, US broadcaster CNBC and the International Business Times.

Mr Oborne claimed the removal of Mr Wilson’s story from the Telegraph website was part of a pattern of behaviour. He alleged the paper had discouraged stories critical of HSBC since the start of 2013, when the bank suspended its advertising with the paper following a Telegraph investigation into accounts held with HSBC in Jersey. He said one former Telegraph executive told him HSBC was “the advertiser you literally cannot afford to offend”.

“The Telegraph’s recent coverage of HSBC amounts to a form of fraud on its readers,” he said. “It has been placing what it perceives to be the interests of a major international bank above its duty to bring the news to Telegraph readers. There is only one word to describe this situation: terrible.”

Guardian service