Three Cheers for Us!

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By Derek Bateman
 
Can I drag you away from the sight of Gordon and Alistair acting like old mates to point you in the direction of the latest dire warnings of our imminent national demise should we join the world community as a sovereign state? (Doesn’t seeing the old comrades arm in arm bring back memories of the time they were in power together building up the British economy and securing prosperity for working class people…how did that all end?)

I refer of course to the long list of business types who have signed a letter warning of the implications of independence – and quite right too. I welcome all contributions no matter how self interested and nutty. For instance if they haven’t worked out how Scotland will remain in the EU by now, they need to replace their internal comms department.

That is now laid to rest and only the utterly ill-informed still wring their hands over it. The argument has moved on – as the foreign banks are now showing – into the very real fear that the UK will vote to come out voluntarily. Wake up in Business Class…

Currency, their other concern, is descending into farce and makes me wonder if these people agreed their letter maybe six months ago when this stuff was hot. More than a handful of these signatories are from global firms who have offices around the world and who trade in every conceivable currency.

It seems they also trade in overblown bullshit because that’s what the thick jocks will fall for. Wouldn’t it have shown a capitalist’s courage if they’d stated their own currency option instead of the nakedly political ruse of asking questions that their own research people could answer inside an hour?

Anyway, I took them at face value and looked at the first handful identified by the BBC…and googled.

Let’s start with HSBC. Take a bow, boys…

Failure after failure at HSBC led to the London-based bank being used as a conduit for “drug kingpins and rogue nations”, a 300-page report compiled for a US Senate committee and has found. The July 2012 report and investigations by US authorities led to the UK-based bank being fined almost $2bn for failing to stop criminals using its banking systems to launder money.

Mexican drug barons – the bank’s subsidiary had drug traffickers as clients and processed millions in suspicious bulk travellers cheques and resisted closing doubtful account. “In an age of international terrorism, drug violence in our streets and on our borders, and organized crime, stopping illicit money flows that support those atrocities is a national security imperative” – Senator Carl Levin.

US laws prevent banks doing business with what it regards as the most dangerous individuals and countries.  HSBC frequently circumvented the rules designed to prevent dealings with Iran, Burma, North Korea and Iran. (Friendly countries all)

Actions taken to get around these safeguards in the system “may have facilitated transactions on half of terrorists, drug traffickers or other wrongdoers“, it said.

Nearly $20 billion work of transactions involved Iran but information was changed to avoid disclosing that.

Terrorist financing links

HSBC did business with Saudi Arabia’s biggest financial institution, Al Rajhi Bank. The report claims that after the terrorist attacks in the US on 11 September 2001, evidence emerged that Al Rajhi and some of its owners had links to financial organisations associated with terrorism. HSBC Middle East was one of a number of affiliates which continued to work with the bank.

HBUS closed the accounts it provided to Al Rajhi, before resuming some ties with them in 2006. The report claimed it had done this after pressure from HSBC, after Al Rajhi threatened to withdraw all of its business from HSBC globally. (Nice. After all that hand wringing about the horrors of the Twin Towers the bank went right on dealing with terrorists. Must make you Labour voters proud of your Better Together backers, no?)

Suspicious travellers’ cheques

Between 2005 and 2008, HBUS cleared $290m worth of US dollar travellers’ cheques which were being presented at a Japanese bank. The daily transactions were worth up to half a million dollars, with large blocks of sequentially numbered cheques being handed over. After prompting from US regulators, HBUS found out that the travellers’ cheques were being bought in Russia – a country at high-risk of money laundering. Three cheers for HSBC and its support of the Union!

Next comes BHP Billiton, the world’s biggest mining company, which “has been dragged into an Iraqi corruption scandal amid revelations that United Nations contracts were inflated by $8m (£4.5m) to recover a debt the previous Iraqi regime owed the London-listed group. An Australian inquiry into local involvement in the abuse of the UN’s oil-for-food programme has revealed that BHP provided $5m worth of wheat on credit to Iraq in the 1990s to secure oil exploration rights.

The Australian Wheat Board admitted to the inquiry last week that in 2002 it inflated the price of a 1m tonne shipment to Iraq to recover the money owed to BHP. This was to hide the payments from the UN. AWB has admitted it paid $A300m (£140m) worth of kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime under the oil-for-food programme, in breach of UN sanctions.

In 1995 BHP, which owns gas fields in the North Sea, provided $5m worth of wheat to Iraq, in what it has described as a “humanitarian gesture”. At the time BHP was negotiating with Iraqi oil ministry officials for rights to develop oil fields in southern Iraq once sanctions were lifted. Andrew Lindberg, the managing director of the Australian Wheat Board, told the inquiry: “BHP had paid AWB for the wheat on behalf of Iraq in exchange for the grant of oil exploration rights in Iraq.”

Hey…this is the kind of Scotland we want to build together, isn’t it? Immoral behavior, bribery and corruption and lying to hide the truth. Three cheers for BHP and the Union.

Something strange must have happened at the next company on the pro-Union list, BG Group, because this is what Bill Campbell, former auditor, wrote about the CEO. “It appears that not just individuals but organisations have selective memory. 

LK Hyman, BG Group, and others should bear in mind the facts that criminal neglect of maintenance over a prolonged period 1999 to 2003 caused the deaths of two men in Sept 2003 after the release of over 6000 m3 of gas into an enclosed space – that is what the Inquiry found and he needs to be reminded that ChrisFinlayson and Malcolm Brinded were responsible in Law for the well being of 1000′s of employees over that prolonged period.

As stated in writing by the then Lord Advocate in a parliamentary reply the haphazard management of safety over a prolonged period contributed directly to the deaths and the Director of these offshore activities during this period was Finlayson. He had been forewarned in 1999 that a serious accident event was inevitable if actions were not taken and he failed, failed totally, to heed these warnings. We got lucky in a sense that the gas did not ignite which as a consequence could have led to a Piper or Deepwater type of catastrophe. 

Hyman et al should be reminded that Shell pled guilty on behalf of its Directors to all charges placed before them. So whatever gloss you paint over the turd, Finlayson and Brinded failed as Directors in their principal duty to comply with the Law so that risks to those persons exposed to these risks offshore were minimised, as was their legal responsibility.” Bill Campbell

Blimey…this sounds murky and scary. (He was right – Finlayson was forced to resign) Never mind, the previous boss of BG Group was Frank Chapman and he’s not remotely controversial…is he?

“The furore over executive pay was ratcheted up over the weekend as it emerged that Frank Chapman, the chief executive of BG group – formerly known as British Gas – took home £28m in cash, shares and pension contributions last year.” Oops.

It is also interesting that I count 12 distillers or drinks interests on the list. These are the same people who are fighting not only minimum pricing which they regard as a global issue if Scotland is successful in its legal case, but the Scotch Whisky Association contests our parliament’s right to legislate…the neo liberal anti democracy lobby in action.

Here’s something else I found as the likes of Edrington try to tell Scots how to vote. Alcohol firms are adopting contentious tactics pioneered by the tobacco industry by funding charities in order to gain influence inside government, researchers claim in a new study. Drink manufacturers, retailers and grant-making trusts have given five alcohol charities donations of up to £1m each in recent years as they have deliberately “used corporate philanthropy as a political device”, according to research by academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Mentor UK, a charity, said it had not received any money from the alcohol industry since 2012 and denied that the Robertson Trust and Gannochy Trust, themselves charities, were industry bodies. Robertson has a close relationship with the Edrington Group, which makes well-known whisky brands including Famous Grouse. Gannochy is funded by the profits from sales of Bell’s whisky.

The two trusts jointly fund Mentor UK’s work in Polmont young offenders institution in Scotland. Prof John Ashton, president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, said: “The health messages and policies that the alcohol industry favours are frequently without an evidence base. Such policies are unlikely to have any real impact on the tens of thousands of deaths, or hundreds of thousands of hospital admissions, that alcohol causes ever year.” Keep up the good work, guys.

Also in there, as you’d expect from people who want to punch above their weight is Thales, the French arms manufacturer, firmly planted on British soil and indeed soil everywhere else…they can arm you to the teeth with all kinds of equipment which you little Scots might need when those jihadists arrive at John O’Groats to threaten the Bed and Breakfast business.

Oh, I almost forgot, our old friends at Weirs, your neighbourhood engineers, convicted of breaching UN sanctions… “The engineering firm Weir Group has been fined £3m after it admitted bribing allies of Saddam Hussein to win lucrative contracts in Iraq, in breach of tough UN sanctions against the Iraqi ruler’s regime. The Glasgow-based company, one of Scotland’s best known engineering firms, pleaded guilty this week to two charges of paying kickbacks of more than £3m to win contracts to supply £35m worth of pumps under the UN oil for food programme.”

Isn’t it fantastic to know such moral, upstanding and honest corporate entities have bosses desperate to look after our interests and worried we might make a mistake? I know all you Labour voters will feel a kindred spirit with the millionaires and boardroom executives who so clearly understand your needs and aspirations. Gives you a warm glow, doesn’t it?

I don’t have time to run through the rest on the list. I’m sure they’re the normal businesses we all know and good luck to them. But it’s sometimes worth asking a very business kind of question – Who are you and what do you really want? – before you buy. Caveat emptor.