HSBC issues fresh statement to distance itself from police crackdown on protest fundraiser after demonstrators vandalise Hong Kong branch on Christmas Eve

Banking giant HSBC has issued a fresh statement to further distance itself from a police decision to freeze about HK$70 million (S$12 million) from a fund raised to support Hong Kong's anti-government protesters, after radicals vandalised one of its branches for the first time on Christmas Eve.

The city's largest bank was embroiled in the controversy after police earlier this month froze the crowdfunded capital from a corporate account held by Spark Alliance HK, a non-profit organisation set up in 2016 to help protesters.

Police also arrested four people on suspicion of money laundering, who were released on bail within hours.

On Tuesday night, a group of black-clad protesters smashed the glass walls of the bank's branch at the junction of Nathan Road and Argyle Street in Mong Kok and started a fire at its entrance.

They also spray-painted graffiti on its walls, one of which read "revenge for Spark Alliance".

A branch of Hang Seng Bank was also vandalised on Nathan Road in Mong Kok, with its glass smashed and ATM machines damaged. Hang Seng Bank is controlled by the HSBC group.

HSBC on Wednesday said it was "saddened and disappointed by the acts of vandalism" at its Mong Kok branch.

It also reiterated that it had decided to close Spark Alliance's account in November to adhere to its global standards, in another statement issued within a week to explain the closure.

HSBC says it is ‘saddened and disappointed by the acts of vandalism’ at its Mong Kok branch. PHOTO: South China Morning Post 

"We understand there is concern about the account closure. We closed the account in November following fund transfer instructions from the customer as the account was not being used for its stated purpose," the bank, headquartered in London, said.

"In December, we received notification from the enforcement agency regarding handling of its account balance.

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"As an international bank, the decision to close the account was in accordance with global regulatory standards. Global regulators require banks to perform due diligence reviews on customer accounts regularly."

A source familiar with the situation told the Post the bank had issued a cheque for the balance amount in late November to a group of people at the instructions of the account holder, The Prime Management Service Ltd, following the closure, while police notified HSBC to stop the account holder from cashing the cheque in early December.

The source said the police notification was based on the grounds they were investigating the case.

It is not known why Spark Alliance had not cashed the cheque before police issued the notification.

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Radicals have targeted and vandalised banks that are state-owned or linked to mainland China ever since the protests erupted in June, but other banks were mostly unaffected.

On Tuesday night, chaos broke out in several districts of the city, including Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, where protesters clashed with police in shopping malls and blocked major roads, while multiple rounds of tear gas were also fired.

HSBC Mong Kok branch is vandalised by protesters on Nathan Road. PHOTO: South China Morning Post

A man fell to the first floor of a shopping mall in Yuen Long while jumping over a barrier, as police said he was trying to flee to avoid a search.

Footage posted online showed the masked, black-clad protester as he fled police, knocking down an officer who tried to stop him, before jumping over a railing and landing a level below on the first floor.

He was sent to Tuen Mun Hospital and was later arrested on suspicion of assaulting police.

The Hospital Authority said between Tuesday and Wednesday morning, at least 25 people were hospitalised with protest-related injuries.

The condition of one man, undergoing treatment at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, remains serious, while others are either in a stable condition or have been discharged.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post