This week HSBC, “the world’s local bank”, have found themselves embroiled in a financial scandal. Shocking revelations have indicated that HSBC actively assisted corrupt organisations and individuals in avoiding tax on an unprecedented level. Disconcerting as this may be, what remains even more unfathomable is the distinct lack of action on the part of HM Revenue and Customs, who have not moved to investigate – even in the face of an apology from HSBC. To complicate matters further, it appears that during this period, top level HSBC executive Stephen Green was appointed as Trade Minister by David Cameron, which begs the question, exactly how much did our government know?
Danny Alexander has called for those instrumental in the tax avoidance to be tried as criminals, and yet there is a clear reluctance to follow this through. This is perhaps understandable when we consider the nature of the relationship between the ruling parties and banks, but this does not make it acceptable. Furthermore, the audacity of Stephen Green to accept a government position while his company was consistently breaking the rules displays exactly how morally reprehensible many banking executives have become. This latest banking scandal only serves to highlight the inordinate amount of power given to banks and the ingrained nature of corruption. The whole affair smacks of injustice and exemplifies the overwhelming elitism functioning in our society, an elitism which enables the wealthy to commit criminal offenses without a second thought.
Worse still is the trite apology offered up by HSBC, in which they blatantly admit their wrongdoing. Far from being a clear admission of guilt and regret, the statement reads very similarly to the response to the 2008 banking crisis and displays a complete lack of remorse. The fact that HSBC do not even bother to refute the claims surely indicates a worrying disassociation from their actions and suggests that they are confident that they are very unlikely to face any legal action. Ultimately, the system is tilted in favour of the bankers and they are fully aware of this fact. Far from learning from the mistakes of the credit crunch, it seems as though HSBC are happy to continue exploiting their position without any consideration of the possible consequences.
The silence on the part of the British prosecution service speaks a thousand words. The message is clear: with the right amount of wealth and power, it is possible to avoid the law. It is difficult to imagine such a relaxed attitude had the source of this tax avoidance been benefit cheats. The so-called ‘scroungers’ of the welfare system are often vilified by the government despite overwhelming evidence indicating that the tax avoidance of big businesses costs the taxpayer millions more than benefits frauds. HSBC’s actions are merely symptomatic of the skewed class system operating in the UK today.
Ultimately, the prosecution service should follow the example of Switzerland and Belgium and launch a full scale investigation. If the claims are substantiated, those involved should obviously be subject to trial and sentencing just like anyone else. However, it seems that this is unlikely to happen; those responsible will likely be absolved of responsibility, and the government will continue to wage war on the most disenfranchised in our society. This sad fact is one that needs to be changed immediately.