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Swiss cuckoo boosts nest eggs

13 February 2015

LORD GREEN's proposals to improve the leadership of the Church of England have not made an impression in the mainstream press, but his own record as a business leader was all over the papers as the General Synod opened. In The Times, with a news story following up The Guardian's scoop: "Lord Green of Hurstpierpoint, who served as trade minister from 2011 to 2013, headed HSBC during a period when 8844 British customers deposited more than £14 billion in its Swiss banking unit. Leaked bank records revealed yesterday that HSBC allowed customers to withdraw 'bricks' of untraceable cash and open undeclared 'black' accounts.'

"Lord Green, who has yet to comment on the revelations, is expected to be called before the public accounts committee. Margaret Hodge, its chairwoman, launched an inquiry into HSBC last night after accusing Lord Green, who for a decade was also a director of HSBC's Swiss branch, of either being 'asleep at the wheel' or "involved in dodgy practices'."

The Guardian's editorial took aim directly: "'Values,' wrote the Revd Prebendary Stephen Green, 'go beyond "what you can get away with"'. Reassuring words from the part-time priest who for years ran one of the world's biggest banks, before being brought into government by David Cameron.

"Courtesy of the HSBC files, however, we now know that this bank, when under his stewardship - first as chief exec, later as chair - was involved in concealing 'black' accounts from the taxman, servicing the secretly stowed funds of corrupt businessmen and allowing the withdrawal of 'bricks' of untraceable cash.

"In the face of these ugly facts about his old bank's Swiss operation, Lord Green has said only that it is for HSBC, and not for him, to comment on that institution's past and current behaviour. No wonder. His obvious refuge would be to claim that, as the boss of a global business in London, he had other worries and could not be expected to know every detail of what distant colleagues in Geneva were up to.

"Sadly for him, this potential shelter took a battering from something else he wrote: 'For companies, where does this [ethical] responsibility begin? With their boards, of course. There is no other task they have which is more important. It is their job . . . to promote and nurture a culture of ethical and purposeful business throughout the organisation.'"

More brutal criticism still was directed at the tax authorities - and nothing in Lord Green's record approached the breathtaking effrontery of the former HMRC chief Dave Hartnett, taking up an advisory post at - but you guessed - HSBC after his civil-service job expired. But at the very least, the story shows the dangers of preaching as if what you said made itself magically true.


THE SUNDAY TIMES had an extraordinary interview with Jayne Ozanne, who used to be a member of the Archbishops' Council under George Carey. It turns out that she was struggling with her sexuality.

"Jayne Ozanne was in her thirties and desperate when she turned to exorcism to cure her of her homosexual feelings. She would visit 'deliverance ministers' in London, who would pray for her to be released from her emotional prison. 'They would put their hands on you and pray until you felt the Holy Spirit,' she says. 'Then they might say something like: "In the name of Jesus, I command the spirit of lust to come out."'"

One thing worth noting here is that it is assumed in the structure of the story that there will be some decision or resolution of the Church's attitude: "Now Ozanne is publicly out, she intends to focus the full force of her personality on fighting this battle. . . The matter is likely to come to a head at the General Synod in February 2017. Expect Jayne Ozanne's voice to ring out loud and clear."

Since the best the Church can hope for, and also the aim of Archbishop Welby's diplomacy, is an agreement to disagree, this suggests that success will be met with a flurry of headlines about "fudge" and failure. Not the worst outcome, but something to be prepared for.


MEANWHILE, in Iceland, another perennial story has revived with spring. This time it is the return of paganism. The state has given permission for the erection of a temple in Reykjavik.

My favourite version of the story came from Reuters, which seemed determined to fill the space with quirky details and punctilious diacritical marks: "'I don't believe anyone believes in a one-eyed man who is riding about on a horse with eight feet,' said Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, high priest of Ásatrúarfélagið, an association that promotes faith in the Norse gods.

"We see the stories as poetic metaphors and a manifestation of the forces of nature and human psychology."

The new temple will be circular, and largely submerged in the earth. The horsemeat for the sacred feasts will be supplied by caterers. It's Porvoo paganism.

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