UPDATE 2-US Senate panel plans HSBC money laundering hearing

Tue Jul 10, 2012 1:28am IST

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By Carrick Mollenkamp

July 9 (Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel investigating breakdowns in money laundering prevention at British bank HSBC Holdings Plc will detail the findings of its inquiry at a hearing on July 17.

The U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said in a scheduling announcement on Monday that a hearing will focus on how high-risk bank clients gained access to the U.S. banking system.

The panel has been investigating HSBC for months as part of an effort by the Senate panel to probe shadowy money flows. The title of the hearing is "Vulnerabilities to Money Laundering, Drugs, and Terrorist Financing: HSBC Case History."

In an emailed statement, HSBC spokesman Robert Sherman said the bank will be discussing a number of compliance issues with the subcommittee, in particular how it resolved issues.

"The Board and leadership of HSBC are fully committed to implementing the highest standards and have already made significant changes to our organization's structure to bring this about," Sherman said.

Reuters originally reported in January that the British bank was under Senate investigation. Reuters subsequently reported in May that the bank has been the subject of an investigation by two U.S. Attorney offices.

HSBC also is under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the Justice Department. Those probes also are examining whether the HSBC was vulnerable to illicit funds moving through the bank.

HSBC is one of the world's largest banks with operations in more than 80 countries and territories. In 2003 and 2010, U.S. bank regulators ordered the bank to improve its anti-money laundering systems and personnel, according to enforcement actions by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a Treasury Department unit.

Documents reviewed by Reuters that are part of two U.S. Attorney's office probes allege that from 2005, the bank violated anti-money laundering laws by not reviewing billions of dollars in transactions for links to drug trafficking, terrorist financing or other criminal activity.

Officials from HSBC and the Comptroller of the Currency, a lead regulator of the bank's U.S. operations, will testify before the Senate panel, the subcommittee said on Monday. An HSBC official likely will be grilled on how the bank dealt with high-risk clients who moved money through HSBC and the U.S. banking system.

Earlier this year, the bank named former top U.S. Treasury Department official Stuart Levey as chief legal officer. Levey had specialized in combating terrorism financing. It is not known whether Levey will testify before the panel. The hiring of a top former Treasury official signaled the bank's desire to show it was committed to combating illegal financing.

The Senate panel, chaired by Sen. Carl Levin, has issued a number of investigative reports in recent years to examine money laundering and tax evasion in the U.S. financial system. In 2011, the panel examined how Wall Street firms and banks profited from the boom and bust of the U.S. housing market.

In the statement, HSBC said it is cooperating in the Senate investigation and with U.S. regulatory authorities.

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