Hong Kong banks yesterday rejected suggestions they were offering refunds to investors in minibonds backed by bankrupt US bank Lehman Brothers, after a report that one had agreed to pay back a customer.
Mevas Bank, a subsidiary of Dah Sing Bank, issued a firm denial that it had refunded a customer. Standard Chartered, Fubon Bank, DBS, Chong Hing Bank, Citibank, Wing Lung Bank, Bank of China (Hong Kong), Chiyu Banking Corporation, Nanyang Commercial Bank and Shanghai Commercial Bank all said they had not concluded any refund agreements with clients. Bank of East Asia and Citic Ka Wah Bank said only that they were handling complaints. Other banks did not respond.
Since Lehman Brothers, the fourth-largest US investment bank, filed for bankruptcy on September 15, hundreds of investors have been demanding refunds from the banks and brokerages that sold them the minibonds – high-risk credit-linked derivatives marketed as proxy investments in well-known companies – and similar complex derivatives.
Hong Kong investors have bought HK$15.6 billion in minibonds and similar derivatives backed by Lehman Brothers. They stand to lose most, if not all, their money. A Chinese-language newspaper this week reported that Mevas Bank had agreed to a refund for a minibond investor. It quoted Democratic Party legislator-elect Kam Nai-wai, who is helping a group of the investors, as saying that the investor had asked that their name be withdrawn from a list of those seeking help. Mr Kam would neither confirm nor deny the report.
In response to Mevas Bank’s denial, he said: “It’s no surprise … They don’t want the other investors to know.” The Mevas investor declined comment. No other investors have withdrawn their requests to the Democratic Party for help. Some investors drew hope from the rumours. “
There’s justice in this world,” said Grace Lau Ngar-pui, organiser of a group of investors who bought Lehmanbacked investment products from ABN Amro, She also believes Mevas’ denial is a tactic to ward off other investors who want a refund.
Yesterday, for the first time, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Chan Ka-keung discussed the complaints with representatives of the banks, brokerages, trustees, the Monetary Authority and the Securities and Futures Commission. The two watchdogs are, respectively, investigating the banks and brokerages which sold the investments. “I specifically urged the banks to seriously and quickly handle the complaints about the methods used for selling the minibonds,” he said.
The Hong Kong Association of Banks has decided to form a taskforce to deal with the minibonds issue. The authority has received 3,555 complaints about minibonds.
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