HSBC is being drawn into Hong Kong’s political turmoil with protesters attacking some of its branches and graffiti daubed on the famous pair of lions that guard its city-center headquarters.
Two HSBC branches and seven indoor ATM clusters were closed on Thursday, the first working day of the year.
Some had their windows smashed and “support Spark Alliance” was spray painted on their walls during a New Year’s Day anti-government protest march. Others were damaged during protests on Christmas Eve.
The two lions were daubed with graffiti and briefly set alight after being doused in a flammable liquid.
Hong Kong is the bank’s single most important market, accounting for just over half of its $12.5 billion pre-tax profits in the first half of 2019, though with the protests tipping Hong Kong’s economy into recession, HSBC and its peers are expected to take a financial hit.
Until now, HSBC had largely escaped direct involvement in the often-violent anti-government protests that have shaken Hong Kong for more than six months even as other companies with perceived links to Beijing have seen premises vandalized, including Bank of China (Hong Kong), Hong Kong’s second largest bank behind HSBC.
But more recently, HSBC has drawn the ire of some protesters who accuse it of being complicit in action by the authorities against activists trying to raise money to support their campaign.
Protesters link the bank’s closure in November of an account held by a group called Spark Alliance, which helps pay protesters’ legal costs, to the December arrest of four Spark Alliance members on money laundering charges.