05/12/2022 Alexander

Highlights from an evening with Chris Blackhurst

Amongst keen spectators in the Polish Hearth Club, Chris Blackhurst, author of “Too Big To Jail”, was invited by Gatenox to share the true story of how HSBC friendly-faced its way into the Cayman Islands and Mexico in order to facilitate the murderous expansion of a global drug empire. Chris is an award-winning business writer who has covered Westminster for The Independent and has conducted interviews in Management Today magazine.

Contrary to the book which starts with the line, “HSBC began its life by serving drug dealers”, Chris started off the talk by introducing Thomas Sutherland, founder of The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.

Without having any prior knowledge of banking or even a bank account in his name, Sutherland found a bank in Hong Kong that would be based on Scottish Banking Principles. Soon after, the bank looked for ways that would ensure its customers that HSBC can be trusted. Sculpted lions much bigger than actual lions were placed in Hong Kong and Shanghai Offices of HSBC which have now become a landmark of its own.

In 1921, Chief Manager Alexander Stephen put such beasts in the office to symbolize protection and security. By the time HSBC closed its balance sheet in 2003, they had $12.8 billion in profit with nearly half coming from individual customers rather than corporate bodies. Since then, HSBC has been all about “all things big” with their ostentatious head office in Canary Wharf being another symbol of pride in ethics.

Another figure, Joaquin Archivaldo Guzman, nicknamed as Chapo, also knew how to grow a business from scratch. However, he was ruthless by all means and has not once in his life symbolized ethics. Chapo was even quoted to say, “I may not be the president of Mexico, but in Mexico I am the boss”. This man ran the Sinaloa drug cartel by, amongst many other crimes, refining the opium poppy found in the Sierra Madre mountains of Sinaloa into morphine and heroin.

Chapo was going beyond the reach of law and order and was soon compared to Osama Bin Laden.

Chris goes on to talk about how the booming business of the drug cartel eventually caused a problem for Chapo because the bigger he grew, the more cash he had. All the luxurious houses, cars, prostitutes, parties and even fancy education for his children could not be paid by used US dollar bills. Thus, the introduction of HSBC’s Mexico branches via a Bital acquisition was most opportune. It has been said that a cash deposit of $933,000 was once made in one go by a courier at HSBC’s Mexico branch. HSBC, however, had few questions to ask about this transaction back then.

HSBC branches located in Sinaloa even had the size of their windows changed so that bigger cases of cash can be put through the window till.

Chris finishes his talk by narrating how “business man” El Chapo ended up in prison with life plus 20 years while HSBC became the bank with the fastest growth and the biggest fine of $1.9 billion in 2012. Unfortunately, this made little to no difference to HSBC as it made pre-tax profits of $12.7bn for the first six months of 2012.

During the Q&A, when Chris was asked if he had to edit out some information because of possible threats, Chris claimed that the book contained every detail with nothing relevant being left out. In fact, all the resources used to write each chapter is cited at the end of his book.

When asked as to whether there would be a movie or a series adaptation of the book, Chris answered that these are still in talks and nothing has been decided yet.