HONG KONG, April 19 (Reuters) - Chinese dissident artist Ai
Weiwei said on Wednesday global banking giant HSBC Holdings Plc
refused to open a personal bank account for him in Hong
Kong for what he assumed were political reasons, a conjecture
the bank dismissed.
The burly, bearded artist, who was in the financial hub for
three days to visit his exhibition, said he did not try to open
accounts at other banks, but that he had no difficulty in the
past when he opened a bank account in Beijing.
Ai, arguably one of the world's most high-profile
contemporary artists and a well-known critic of China, said an
HSBC staff member told him he had provided all the necessary
documents, but still rejected his application.
"I was surprised, I asked him why, he said it was for
commercial reasons," Ai told Reuters. "He said you just can't
open an account here ... It's very hard to imagine it's not due
to a political reason. But I have no evidence," he added.
Confidentiality concerns did not allow HSBC to discuss
individual cases, the bank said in a written reply to Reuters.
"However, HSBC does not decline to open bank accounts
because of individuals' political views," it said.
HSBC is among many banks in the region to have stepped up
oversight of bank accounts to help guard against money
laundering and terrorist financing.
Hong Kong leader-elect Carrie Lam has previously
acknowledged the difficulties some foreigners and overseas
businesses face in opening bank accounts there.
Ai described his dealings with HSBC on social media,
prompting criticism of the bank and renewed debate over whether
big corporations in Hong Kong are wary of offending China.
The former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in
1997, has experienced a tumultuous few years, with pro-democracy
protests quelled in what many residents view as creeping
interference by Beijing in its affairs.
In 2015, toymaker Lego refused a bulk order of toy bricks by
the artist because it would not endorse their use in projects
with "a political agenda." It later backed down, saying it would
no longer ask customers their plans for the product.
Ai, who helped design Beijing's "Bird's Nest" stadium for
the 2008 Olympics, lost favour with the Chinese government when
he began campaigning for justice for children crushed to death
by shoddily constructed buildings in an earthquake that year.
Since leaving China in the summer of 2015, the prominent
advocate for human rights has been based largely in the German
capital of Berlin.
(Reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and)