Thursday 18 January 2018

Noonan: I was right to pick ex-HSBC boss as key adviser

Former HSBC chief executive Michael Geoghegan and, inset, Finance Minister Michael Noonan.
Former HSBC chief executive Michael Geoghegan and, inset, Finance Minister Michael Noonan.
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

FINANCE Minister Michael Noonan has defended his appointment of former HSBC boss Michael Geoghegan to a key advisory role.

Mr Geoghegan was the global boss of HSBC at the time its Swiss operation facilitated tax evasion by certain clients.

Leaked documents from 2006 and 2007 also revealed the banking giant did business with arms dealers, associates of Third World dictators and traffickers in blood diamonds.

English-born Mr Geoghegan, whose father was an academic from Co Tipperary, was HSBC's chief executive from 2006 to 2010. He was later appointed by Mr Noonan to a group advising the Government on the operation of the National Asset Management Agency (Nama).

Mr Geoghegan chaired the Nama Advisory Board from 2012 until 2014, when it was stood down.

The role was unpaid, but hotel, travel and subsistence costs for Mr Geoghegan and two other advisers came to €58,564.

In a statement to the Irish Independent in the aftermath of the Swiss Leaks revelations, Mr Noonan's office defended the appointment.

It said Mr Geoghegan provided officials with "valuable insights and feedback" during a review of the operation of the agency.

The group primarily advised Mr Noonan on strategy and the pay of senior executives.

It operated on an informal basis and reported directly to the minister.

It is thought that it met on no more than 10 occasions in total. Only one meeting took place last year.

The statement said: "The advisory group has played a valuable role and the minister is satisfied it has served its purpose effectively.

"The knowledge, expertise and advice the group has provided during this very important time in Ireland's economic history has been very valuable."

The other members of the group were businessman Denis Rooney and Nama chairman Frank Daly.

Mr Geoghegan was consulted for a review which considered the pay and conditions of Nama staff.

The review advised that the agency was in danger of losing key staff due to public sector terms and conditions including wage agreements and salary caps.

The Swiss Leaks files are the second set of embarrassing revelations to emerge from Mr Geoghegan's time at the helm of the bank. Two years ago HSBC was accused of "playing fast and loose with US banking rules" between 2004 and 2010 following a US Senate subcommittee investigation.

The damning report made clear that Mr Geoghegan was aware of the major issues at the bank during the period under investigation, including HSBC's processing of billions of dollars worth of hidden deals for Iranian banks.

A snapshot of accounts in HSBC's Swiss operation in 2006 and 2007 revealed 350 people or entities associated with Ireland had over €3.1bn in funds deposited there.

The Revenue Commissioners began investigating the accounts in 2010 after being passed information by French authorities. To date tax settlements of €4.55m have been reached in 20 cases.

Irish Independent

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