March 11, 2015
SEOUL,— The National Assembly is moving to have HSBC CEO Stuart Gulliver answer key questions regarding the disappearance of $31.4 million of taxpayers’ money in a project undertaken as part of the failed “energy diplomacy” under the previous Lee Myung-bak government.
Rep. Chun Soon-ok of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD) told The Korea Times that she is sending Gulliver questions about the case, which she believes could escalate into an international bribery scandal involving former presidential aides.
“First and foremost, we want to know who took the money,” Rep. Chun said, referring to the “signature bonus” given by the state-run Korea National Oil Corp. (KNOC) to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq on Jan. 16 and Dec. 19, 2008, in return for the right to explore and develop the Bazian Block oilfield on its territory.
She said that the money disappeared after it was sent to the KRG through HSBC in London.
“We assume that the money was shared by the former aides of President Lee, Kurdistan officials and Choi Kyu-sun, the middleman,” she said. Chun belongs to the party’s committee to uncover the outflow of national wealth under the previous government.
But Choi denied this occurred, former President Lee couldn’t be reached and Kurdistan officials were not available for comment.
HSBC also declined to comment.
Chun said that the global bank is under an obligation to promote transparency regarding its operations in general and, in particular, in this kind of case in which there are strong suspicions of bribery.
She said that she is willing to enlist the help of an ongoing bipartisan probe into the failed policies of the former President in order to uncover the truth about the missing millions in taxpayers’ money.
“We are not ruling out another avenue of using a government-to-government contact to get an answer from HSBC,” she said.
At the center of the case is Ashti Hawrami, the KRG’s natural resources minister, who designated HSBC headquarters in London’s Canary Wharf business district as the bank through which to send the KNOC money.
The money could have been a bribe given to Hawrami, Chun said.
Making the HSBC deal more dubious is that it was different from those involving other parts of the deal conducted by Commerzbank in Frankfurt.
When the KNOC sent $100 million in August 2012 and $10 million in January 2014 as SOC construction costs to build a hospital and other facilities in Kurdistan, the oil company used Commerzbank as the intermediary. Certificates exist, clearly showing that the money arrived at the Kurdistan International Bank via Commerzbank.
The copy of the request for remittances acquired by The Korea Times listed 31 banks as intermediaries.
But the request involving the $31.4 million, a copy of which The Korea Times also obtained, only cited HSBC’s headquarters in London.
Gulliver recently appeared before the Treasury Select Committee at the House of Commons, London, to be questioned over allegations that the bank’s Swiss branch helped wealthy customers dodge paying tax.
The bank has endured a string of scandals and paid millions in penalties to regulators around the world
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