StanChart: well, this is embarrassing

Chairman: "I made certain statements that I very much regret".

Standard Chartered's chairman has had to retract comments he made at a press conference two weeks ago, in a rather painful statement posted on StanChart's website today. During the press conference he refererred to the banks' US sanctions breaches as "clerical errors". This, it turns out, was also an error. Here's the apology in full. Ouch.

Released 08:30 21-Mar-2013

LONDON, 21 March 2013: On 5 March 2013, I, together with Chief Executive Officer Peter Sands and Group Finance Director Richard Meddings, representing Standard Chartered Bank (the "Group"), held a press conference where certain questions were asked concerning individual employee conduct and compensation in light of the deferred prosecution agreements made with the US Department of Justice and the New York County District Attorney's Office in December 2012.  During that press conference, which took place via phone, I made certain statements that I very much regret and that were at best inaccurate.

In particular, I made the following statements in reference to a question regarding the reduction of bonuses for SCB executives:

We had no willful act to avoid sanctions; you know, mistakes are made - clerical errors - and we talked about last year a number of transactions which clearly were clerical errors or mistakes that were made…

My statement that SCB "had no willful act to avoid sanctions" was wrong, and directly contradicts SCB's acceptance of responsibility in the deferred prosecution agreement and accompanying factual statement.

Standard Chartered Bank, together with me, Mr. Peter Sands and Mr.  Richard Meddings, who jointly hosted the press conference, retract the comment I made as both legally and factually incorrect. To be clear, Standard Chartered Bank unequivocally acknowledges and accepts responsibility, on behalf of the Bank and its employees, for past knowing and willful criminal conduct in violating US economic sanctions laws and regulations, and related New York criminal laws, as set out in the deferred prosecution agreement.  I, Mr. Sands, Mr. Meddings, and Standard Chartered Bank apologize for the statements I made to the contrary.

Sincerely,

Sir John Peace

Chairman

Standard Chartered PLC

 

Photograph: Getty Images
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Why Theresa May can't end speculation of an early general election

Both Conservative and Labour MPs regard a contest next year as the solution to their problems. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as a Conservative leadership candidate was to rule out an early general election. After a tumultuous 2015 contest and the EU referendum, her view was that the country required a period of stability (a view shared by voters). Many newly-elected Tory MPs, fearful of a Brexit-inspired Ukip or Liberal Democrat surge, supported her on this condition.

After entering Downing Street, May reaffirmed her stance. “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer,” a senior source told me. “There won’t be an early election.” Maintaining this pledge is an important part of May’s straight-talking image.

But though No.10 has wisely avoided publicly contemplating an election (unlike Gordon Brown), the question refuses to die. The Conservatives have a majority of just 12 - the smallest of any single-party government since 1974 - and, as David Cameron found, legislative defeats almost inevitably follow. May’s vow to lift the ban on new grammar schools looks to many like an unachievable task. Former education secretary Nicky Morgan and former business minister Anna Soubry are among the Tories leading the charge against the measure (which did not feature in the 2015 Conservative manifesto).  

To this problem, an early election appears to be the solution. The Tories retain a substantial opinion poll lead over Labour, the most divided opposition in recent history. An election victory would give May the mandate for new policies that she presently lacks.

“I don’t believe Theresa May wishes to hold an early election which there is evidence that the country doesn’t want and which, given the current state of the Labour Party, might be seen as opportunistic,” Nigel Lawson told today’s Times“If, however, the government were to find that it couldn’t get its legislation through the House of Commons, then a wholly new situation would arise.”

It is not only Conservatives who are keeping the possibility of an early election alive. Many Labour MPs are pleading for one in the belief that it would end Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. An early contest would also pre-empt the boundary changes planned in 2018, which are forecast to cost the party 23 seats.

For Corbyn, the possibility of an election is a vital means of disciplining MPs. Allies also hope that the failed revolt against his leadership, which Labour members blame for the party’s unpopularity, would allow him to remain leader even if defeated.

Unlike her predecessors, May faces the obstacle of the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act (under which the next election will be on 7 May 2020). Yet it is not an insurmountable one. The legislation can be suspended with the backing of two-thirds of MPs, or through a vote of no confidence in the government. Alternatively, the act could simply be repealed or amended. Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who have demanded an early election, would struggle to resist May if she called their bluff.

To many, it simply looks like an offer too good to refuse. Which is why, however hard May swats this fly, it will keep coming back. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.