June 26, 2018 / 11:13 PM / 19 days ago

British politicians step up pressure on Lloyds Bank over HBOS fraud

LONDON (Reuters) - Lloyds Banking Group is facing more pressure over its handling of a fraud at its HBOS Reading business that took place more than a decade ago, with the chair of Britain’s Treasury Committee calling for “maximum transparency” over the affair.

FILE PHOTO: A woman uses a cash machine at a Lloyds Bank branch in central London, Britain February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Paul Hackett/File Photo

The intervention by committee chair Nicky Morgan follows the publication of an internal 2013 Lloyds report last week, which alleges serious misconduct by the bank over its handling and disclosure of the fraud.

Morgan, who described the report’s allegations as “deeply troubling”, has written to fellow member of parliament Kevin Hollinrake, saying the committee had taken a close interest in the case and could “engage constructively” with it once investigations into the matter have been completed.

“It is then that we will have more clarity on who knew what, and when,” she wrote, adding that she would press for speedy conclusions to the investigations and that specific allegations could then be put to the bank.

Morgan’s intervention turns up the heat on Lloyds and regulators over the fraud, one of Britain’s worst-ever banking scandals for which six people were jailed for a total of 47 years last year.

A Lloyds spokesman said on Wednesday the bank supported the investigations into the fraud, welcomed Morgan’s statement and would assist the committee in its consideration of the matter.

“Lloyds Banking Group remains determined to get to the bottom of what happened in HBOS Reading and we share the Treasury Committee’s desire for transparency,” the spokesman said in a statement. 

A cross-party group of lawmakers, headed by Hollinrake, last week called for “full, forensic and expeditious” investigations by regulators and law enforcement agencies into the report’s allegations.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is conducting a probe into HBOS and what its executives knew of the fraud, while a retired judge Linda Dobbs is looking at whether Lloyds properly investigated the incident after it brought HBOS in 2009. Britain’s National Crime Agency has also expanded a review into the fraud.

The fraud, which took place in the early 2000s, enabled the conspirators to enrich themselves at the expense of the bank’s business clients.

Morgan has also written to Dobbs to ask when her Lloyds-commissioned review into the matter would be complete. Morgan also said the committee would expect to see her full, unredacted findings in the same form as they are presented to the FCA.

The allegations in the Lloyds’ internal report could have far-reaching implications given Lloyds’ takeover of HBOS in 2009.

Written by a former Lloyds manager, the report says that had HBOS properly disclosed the fraud in 2007, a 4 billion pound 2008 rights issue that stabilised its financial position, and its subsequent takeover by Lloyds, would not have happened.

The report has circulated privately among regulators and law enforcement officials for years but has not been made available to the public. Scottish businessman Neil Mitchell, a critic of Britain’s big banks, published the report online last week, saying it was in the public interest.

Morgan has also written to Russel Griggs, an independent professor appointed by Lloyds to manage a compensation scheme for the victims of the fraud, asking for details on his progress on settling victims claims.

“It is overwhelmingly in the public interest to understand how such a huge criminal fraud was allowed to happen, and why it took so long to come to light,” she said in a statement.

Reporting by Emma Rumney. Editing by Jane Merriman

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