|JAKARTA/INDONESIA, 12JUN11 - Stuart T. Gulliver, Group Chief Executive, HSBC Holdings, United Kingdom; Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum on East Asia, captured during Building around Bottlenecks: Upgrading Asia's Infrastructure at the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta, Indonesia, June 12, 2011. Copyright World Economic Forum(www.weforum.org)Photo by Sikarin Thanachaiary (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
HSBC (HSBA.L) Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver said he was the right person to run Europe's biggest bank and fix problems of the past after British lawmakers berated it for allowing "industrial-scale tax avoidance" at its Swiss arm.
Gulliver faced more than two hours of hostile questioning from the lawmakers on Monday, along with a former head of HSBC's private banking and one of its non-executive directors, over a tax evasion scandal that has rocked the bank.
The CEO's personal financial affairs have added further fuel to the row over whether the bank helped clients dodge taxes after Britain's Guardian newspaper said he had sheltered millions of pounds in HSBC's Swiss private bank via a Panamanian company.
Gulliver said that did not undermine his role.
"I believe I am (the right person to be CEO) because my tax affairs are in order and I have carried out widespread root-and-branch reforms of HSBC in the five years I have been group CEO," he told lawmakers on parliament's Public Accounts Committee.
He said whether he remained as CEO was a matter for the board and shareholders. "I am committed to finishing what I began five years ago in a firm that I've served for 35 years."
The CEO admitted scrutiny of his own affairs had damaged the bank, however.
"My inability to convince anyone that these arrangements were not put in place for reasons of tax evasion have caused reputational damage to the bank. But the fact is I've complied with the tax laws," he said.
HSBC has admitted failings in controls at its Swiss private bank following media reports that it helped wealthy customers conceal millions of dollars of assets in a period up to 2007, but has said it has transformed its operations.
"This is tax avoidance on an industrial scale," said Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee.
Argentina piled on more pressure on Monday, saying it wanted the bank to repatriate $3.5 billion (2.3 billion pounds) that it says it helped move offshore to help clients evade taxes.