HSBC faces shareholders' ire over money-laundering, other issues

Angry shareholders of UK banking conglomerate HSBC on Friday hauled the group's board over the coals with a range of accusations, from financing Mexican drug cartels to supporting tax havens, slashing jobs and mis-selling products.

At the company's first annual general meeting since paying a record $1.9 billion in US penalties to settle money laundering claims, the shareholders also hit the directors with charges of hunting down whistleblowers and grabbing excessive bonuses.

Among the attackers at the meeting in London's Barbican Centre was environmentalist and broadcaster Bill Oddie. He accused the bank of financing the desecration of forests in Sarawak and Borneo.

Outside the AGM venue, campaigners from World Development Network confronted bankers with champagne flutes filled with 'carbon bubbles' to protest against what they said was the bankrolling of climate change, while street theatre performers heckled arriving executives.

Inside the auditorium, one shareholder unfolded an orange 'prison' jumpsuit and suggested that HSBC board members swap their suits and ties for prisoner garb.

A former staff member, now retired, appealed to the board to claw back bonuses paid to directors following scandals such as the mis-selling of PPI and interest rate swaps, and warned that interest-only mortgages would be the next scandal to envelop the bank.

HSBC chairman Douglas Flint told the hundreds of shareholders present that the bank had "unreservedly apologised" and was "humbled and horrified to find failings of such magnitude" after a year which had been "the most difficult that I or any of my colleagues have faced."

HSBC has since established a "financial system vulnerabilities committee" to better detect crime and misdemeanours in future, he said.

Chief executive Stuart Gulliver said he had joined the bank 33 years ago when it was "a kitemark for quality - and that's what we want to get back to".

But the apologies failed to quash an embarrassing 11 per cent shareholder rebellion against HSBC's executive pay report. The bank's pay scheme had handed Gulliver a near £2 million annual bonus despite the bank's involvement in a string of high profile scandals.

David Haslam of Methodist Tax Justice Network won cheers from scores of small shareholders after he asked Flint if he recognised the "very strong feeling that bankers are paid too much money".

But the bank said Gulliver's bonus was awarded in recognition of his "strong leadership" and "personal behaviour" in tackling the money-laundering revelations.

Gulliver's total pay and benefits for 2012 came in at £7.4 million - more than 500 times that earned by the bank's lowest paid workers. A total of 204 HSBC staff shared something over £1 million in pay and benefits last year.