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HSBC Freezes Accounts Of Small UK Companies, Traders Complain: Reuters

HSBC Freezes Accounts Of Small UK Companies, Traders Complain: Reuters
The unintended casualties of a crackdown by the bank on illicit money flows have been companies that have had accounts closed or frozen by HSBC in the last two months, and includes an avocado importer, an e-cigarette seller and a toilet-cleaning gun maker reported Reuters.
With some unable to pay staff and suppliers, and others suffering financial losses they fear could force them to close, dozens of companies have been affected.
Those affected are in the small business sector which the government has said it wants to encourage and hopes will thrive after Britain leaves the European Union even though the number is a tiny percentage of all business accounts at HSBC.
HSBC told Reuters there may have been "an issue with how we've been communicating" and that it would put right "any case where we have done something wrong".
"Inhibiting an account is always a last resort, so to get to that stage we will have done everything we can to contact the customer and get the information we need," said Amanda Murphy, head of commercial banking for HSBC UK.
After answering questions from HSBC as part of a review of customers, fourteen companies told Reuters in interviews they had lost access to their accounts. Following a $1.9 billion fine in 2012 for allowing itself to be used to launder drug money from Mexico, the bank is trying to tighten checks on clients.
According to sources with knowledge of the complaints and social media postings by the affected companies, more than 30 companies have lodged complaints with HSBC about their accounts being closed or frozen, reported Reuters.
Wherever money laundering is suspected, banks are prevented from informing customers why their accounts are being closed or suspended by the anti-money laundering regulations. HSBC may be powerless to tell customers why they are suffering in some cases.
Action was initiated in earnest this year at HSBC which has a 10 billion pound ($12.8 billion) fund to support small businesses in Britain. They had been under the impression they had provided all the information needed, said some companies that had their accounts closed in July or this month.
He was left in default to suppliers, with stock stuck in China and the company unable to pay staff, after his account was frozen, said Calan Horsman, whose company Loogun makes a hand-held water gun for toilet cleaning, according to Reuters.
"My business ground to a halt. I had to unload a container of product that was stuck in a port. We've lost a month in our production timeline," Horsman said.
Martyn Fisher's company Fisher Fabrics does business abroad, like most of the other companies affected.
"I should be the ideal business post-Brexit. I do nothing within the EU. I'm doing deals with all these countries that are supposed to be our trade partners after Brexit," he said after his company had its account frozen.
As they seek to avoid fines from U.S. authorities for abetting money laundering and sanctions-busting, banks worldwide have in recent years shut thousands of customer accounts.
After being caught up in the crackdown, within the last two years, more than 300 charities based in Britain have had their bank accounts closed.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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