Media Watch 9/2/15

By Rowan Williams

The UK’s biggest bank, HSBC, secretly helped wealthy clients avoid paying millions of pounds in tax, leaked documents have revealed. Information from bank accounts at HSBC’s private Swiss banking arm have shown that as well as giving advice to clients on avoiding tax, HSBC also gave out bundles of untraceable cash and advised clients on concealing assets. The bank aggressively marketed banking schemes likely to enable clients to avoid European taxes, and provided bank accounts to international criminals and corrupt businessmen. The leaked files were obtained through an international collaboration including newspapers The Guardian and Le Monde, and the BBC’s Panorama programme. The documents were obtained by a computer expert working for HSBC in Geneva in 2007. HSBC has admitted that some clients took advantage of the bank’s secrecy, but has stressed that it has “fundamentally changed” since 2007. The leak is the biggest banking leak in history, and is likely to stir further calls for governments to take action against tax avoidance.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington on Monday, with the aim of furthering the peace process in Ukraine. Chancellor Merkel is expected to try and dissuade President Obama from arming Ukrainian pro-government forces, and stress a diplomatic solution to the conflict that has claimed 5,400 lives since April. Providing arms to Ukraine would be seen as a significant escalation of international involvement in the conflict. Some commentators have suggested that Russia, which stands accused of assisting separatist forces in Ukraine, is reviving a strategy used in the Cold War to create divisions between the US and NATO member states such as Germany. The leaders of France and Germany are to meet with the leaders of Ukraine and Russia on Wednesday to attempt to revive a peace plan. Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has claimed that the Ukraine crisis has been caused by the west, with the expansion of NATO forcing countries to choose between Russia and western nations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is to visit the United States for the first time in 2015, a top Chinese diplomat has announced. Chinese Ambassador to the United States Cui Tiankai announced on Sunday that Chinese and US officials were discussing the visit, Chinese state media reported. Cui stated that no date for the visit had been determined yet. A US national security adviser said on Friday that the US had invited the leaders of both China and Japan to make state visits to the country. President Xi last met with US President Obama in November at the APEC summit in Beijing. Cooperation between the US and China was widely reported following the last meeting, with joint pledges to take action on climate change well-received on the international stage.

The Papers

Money matters make the headlines in several papers today. The Guardian leads with a report into a “catalogue of wrongdoing” at HSBC’s Swiss banking arm, revealing that the bank “colluded with clients to dodge taxes and hide millions”. The bank has conceded “misconduct and lax controls” in its Swiss operation. The Daily Telegraph leads with news that one million pensioners are “to benefit from bonds”, with one in ten pensioners to benefit from a scheme offering older savers four percent interest. The scheme has been extended for three months, the paper writes. The Times leads with the same story, writing that Chancellor George Osborne, who announced the scheme, has “courted older voters through the scheme”. Some have accused the Chancellor of “attempting to buy the ‘grey vote’ just as Whitehall budgets are under pressure”, the paper reports. Ukraine makes the headlines elsewhere, with The Independent writing that German Chancellor Angela Merkel has flown to the United States “to try to secure peace in Ukraine”. Chancellor Merkel is to brief President Obama, the paper writes, with fears growing in some corners that “Baltic states could be Russia’s next targets”. The Financial Times leads with the same story, writing that Merkel will “urge diplomacy” over the issue despite growing calls for the United States to arm Ukrainian forces. The latest peace deal between Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany “failed to reach an accord” over the weekend, the paper reports.

British Media on China

On the execution of mining tycoon Liu Han: Liu’s execution received coverage from the BBC, Daily Telegraph, and Guardian, with the latter using an agency piece on the story. The BBC reports that the Sichuan-based Liu was “believed to have links to former security tsar Zhou Yongkang”, noting that “several top officials from Sichuan province have come under scrutiny”. Sichuan had been a power base for Zhou. The Daily Telegraph describes Liu as a “Ferrari-loving billionaire ‘gangster’… known for his love of cigars, casinos and fast cars”, calling his execution “one of the most dramatic episodes yet” in President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign. The Guardian’s piece makes clear that Liu had committed multiple acts of murder.

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