HSBC suspected of drug cartel links


US PROSECUTORS investigating the movement of money by global banks suspect HSBC of laundering money for Mexican drug cartels and transferring money through its US subsidiary for sanctioned nations, including Iran, Sudan and North Korea.

The weight of the accusations could force HSBC, which has set aside $700 million (€560 million) to cover the cost of potential fines, to pay at least $1 billion to settle the inquiry, said authorities with knowledge of the investigation. This would make it the largest such settlement in history.

It comes as UniCredit, Italy’s biggest bank, said its HypoVereinsbank unit was being investigated by US authorities over possible violation of economic sanctions.

HypoVereinsbank “has been co-operating with investigations by the New York county district attorney’s office, the US department of justice and the US treasury department’s office of foreign assets control involving US-sanctioned persons and companies”, the Italian bank said in a statement yesterday.

The money-laundering accusations against HSBC so far are more extensive than the potential violation of US sanctions that is the focus of the investigations against other foreign banks, including Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank of Germany, BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole of France, and Royal Bank of Scotland, said the law enforcement authorities, who requested anonymity because the investigations are continuing.

“This case is not about HSBC complicity in money laundering,” a spokesman for HSBC said in a statement on Friday. “Rather, it’s about lax compliance standards that fell short of regulators’ expectations and our expectations, and we are absolutely committed to remedying what went wrong and learning from it.”

The other banks either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.

Anxious to resolve the investigation, HSBC reached out to federal prosecutors in July in hopes of securing a settlement by September, according to the law enforcement officials.

But a settlement in the next couple of weeks is highly unlikely, the officials said. – (New York Times service/Bloomberg)