Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung on Wednesday (July 22) revealed on a Facebook post that he received a phone call last week from HSBC which enquired him about the source of a five-digit bank transfer to his account, citing a concern over its client’s asset management, before Wong speculated the bank’s enquiry could be out of “white terror” under Hong Kong’s national security law and raised suspicion that the move carries political intent.
Wong’s revelation came after an exclusive report by Reuters on Monday (July 20) citing six sources as saying that global wealth managers are examining whether their clients in Hong Kong have ties to the city’s pro-democracy movement.
Wong, secretary general of the now-disbanded Demosistō, said he explained to the bank that the transfer was his royalty income given by Penguin Publisher from the sales of his new book Unfree Speech.
He said clearly he was willing to provide HSBC with a written proof of the royalty income but the caller from the bank replied “no need”, Wong said in the post.
In response to the enquiry by the Stand News about the incident, HSBC said it had nothing to add.
It was the first call of this kind he had received since he opened the bank account for more than 10 years ago, Wong wrote on Facebook.
“Even [the bank] still needed to enquire about such a small amount. I feel very strange,” he said.
Wong speculated that, the enquiry, to a large extent, could result from “white terror” stemming from the national security law in Hong Kong, while suspecting that the phone call was not randomly called, and that there must exist political intent.
“During the phone call, I asked the bank’s staff whether I was under scrutiny due to political ties, but the staff member did not respond directly,” Wong wrote. “[I am now] very worried that I may not be able to apply to open a bank account in the future.”
He said he had consulted a lawyer and he could not rule out the possibility of his account being frozen for no reason.
He disclosed the incident to hope everyone can exercise caution when coping with any means of crackdown by the authoritarian regime, Wong added.
Global wealth managers are examining whether their clients in Hong Kong have ties to the city’s pro-democracy movement, in an attempt to avoid getting caught in the crosshairs of the new national security law, Reuters reported, citing six people with knowledge of the matter.
Bankers at Credit Suisse Group AG, HSBC Holdings Plc, Julius Baer Gruppe AG and UBS Group AG, among others, are broadening scrutiny under their programs that screen clients for political and government ties and subjecting them to additional diligence requirements, these six people said.
The designation, called politically exposed persons, can make it more difficult or altogether prevent people from accessing banking services, depending on what the bank finds about the person’s source of wealth or financial transactions, Reuters reported.
The checks at some wealth managers have involved combing through comments made by clients and their associates in public and in media, and social media posts in the recent past, the news agency cited the six people said.
According to Reuters, HSBC declined to comment specifically on the national security law or any US move to sanction local officials. It said in an emailed statement, “We already have a stringent set of policies and rigorous processes in place which we apply globally.”
Credit Suisse, Julius Baer and UBS declined to comment, the report said.
Reuters cited a banker at a global wealth manager as saying that the audit of its clients could go back as far as 2014 in some cases to gauge a client’s political stance since the pro-democracy Occupy movement in Hong Kong in 2014.
Joshua Wong's Facebook page, Reuters