HSBC shuts down accounts of UK Muslim groups

HSBC has warned the founder and chief executive of Cordoba Foundation, Anas Altikriti, a British citizen of Iraqi descent, his wife and two sons that their personal accounts will also be closed.

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A British group that has been linked to the Muslim Brotherhood and attempts to undermine Arabian Gulf monarchies is among organisations and individuals to have been told by HSBC that their accounts will be closed as they are deemed to fall "outside the bank's risk appetite".
The Cordoba Foundation, based in London, has as its declared aim the promotion of interfaith dialogue but was shown in an extensive report in The National last month to have connections to the Brotherhood.
HSBC has warned the foundation's founder and chief executive, Anas Altikriti, a British citizen of Iraqi descent, his wife and two sons that their personal accounts will also be closed. The bank rejects any suggestion that it makes decisions affecting customers based on racial or religious grounds.
London's Finsbury Park mosque is another account-holder told by HSBC it must now make alternative banking arrangements.
The mosque was formerly run by Abu Hamza, the controversial cleric convicted in May of terrorism offences in the United States, and previously jailed in Britain on charges including soliciting murder and stirring up hatred.
The present trustees described the decision as "astonishing", citing "the positive work we have done since taking over from Abu Hamza to change the image of the mosque".
The BBC quoted Khalid Oumar, one trustee, as saying the lack of clear explanation "has led us to believe that the only reason this has happened is because of an Islamophobic campaign targeting Muslim charities in the UK".
Cordoba, the mosque and another group, the Ummah Welfare Trust, received similar letters from HSBC last week telling them the "provision of banking services now falls outside our risk appetite". Two months' notice was given of the bank's intention to close accounts.
The HSBC letter added: "You will need to make alternative banking arrangements, as we are not prepared to open another account for you."
Ummah, based in north-western England, is a registered charity that has distributed substantial sums for initiatives in 20 countries and has been involved in Gaza projects for 10 years. Ummah is now urging Muslims to boycott HSBC and says it will increase financial support for people affected by the conflicts in Gaza and Syria using alternative banking methods.
Mr Altikriti tweeted yesterday that his family's treatment by the bank was "incredibly disrespectful and shoddy".
He said that the only explanation he could think of for the closing of the accounts was a link with "my work for Palestine and Gaza". However, Mr Altikriti retweeted one supporter's message suggesting there was a "direct" link between the HSBC decision and what he called "furious UAE propaganda" about him.
When interviewed by The National for last month's report, he denied membership of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Yet in 2008 David Cameron accused his foundation of being "a front for the Muslim Brotherhood". And in April this year, Mr Altikriti told the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV network that Russia, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE were in "a club that has moved to ban the Muslim Brotherhood" with Britain being pushed towards "becoming part of that club".
In May, the Cordoba Foundation placed an advertisement in The Guardian in response to the British government's decision to conduct an inquiry into the Brotherhood to establish whether it had links to violent extremism. The advertisement was a highlight of a campaign against the inquiry, which Mr Altikriti considers a sign of the Cameron government bowing to pressure from foreign governments, including the UAE, with the aim of effectively outlawing Brotherhood activities in Britain.
The National report published on June 19 described the campaign to defend the Brotherhood as accompanied by "a less easily discernible attempt by activists, some of them linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, to promote an Islamist agenda that includes attempting to undermine the legitimacy of Arabian Gulf monarchies".
An HSBC spokesman said yesterday: "We do not discuss relationships we may or may not have with a customer, nor confirm whether an individual or business is, or has been a customer.
"In general terms, decisions to end a customer relationship are not taken lightly, but are absolutely not based on the race or religion of a customer. Discrimination against customers on grounds of race or religion is immoral, unacceptable and illegal, and HSBC has comprehensive rules and policies in place to ensure race or religion are never factors in the decisions we make."
It is not clear whether the HSBC action reflects heightened sensitivity since it was heavily fined in the US in December 2012 over allegation of money laundering and sanction breaches.
Last year, the bank appointed Sir Jonathan Evans, the former head of MI5 (the UK's domestic security service), as a non-executive director also serving on a special unit formed to combat financial crime. There is no present suggestion, however, that HSBC suspects any of those affected by its recent decision of specific wrongdoing.