I am a US citizen living in Panama. I recently learned of a very disturbing lawsuit filed by the multi national banking conglomerate HSBC in Panama – a country where anyone can be criminally prosecuted or civilly sued for defamation even if the statements that are the subject of the suit are absolutely true (truth is not a defense). The suit was filed by HSBC’s Panama branch, which is (I believe) an affiliate of the US corporation, against a British resident of Panama, Peter Gordon.
Peter had been a customer of HSBC Panama but cancelled his accounts because he was unsatisfied with HSBC’s service and felt they were nickel and diming him with excessive and unwarranted fees. He posted numerous messages on several yahoo groups catering to foreign expats living in (or planning to move to) Panama warning people not to bank with HSBC because of poor service and excessive fees. Last year, the bank sued him civilly for defamation based solely on the yahoo group postings (the suit seeks $5 million dollars in “lost business”) and got an order attaching not only his personal assets, but also the assets of a charitable foundation he had set up. (Panama law allows the plaintiff in a lawsuit to attach the defendant’s assets and freeze them until the lawsuit is resolved, which usually takes years.)
This case is very important, particularly to the expat community and foreign investors in Panama, not only because of the free speech issues, but also because HSBC was able to obtain the order freezing the foundation’s bank accounts, even though such an order is a clear violation of Panama’s laws that protect foundations against asset seizure unless the plaintiff can show that the foundation itself (through its governing body) committed the tortious act or that the person being sued engaged in fraudulent transfers of assets to the foundation.
The issue of the asset seizure is now before the Panama Supreme Court, although the lawsuit itself may not be tried for years. For more information about this case, please contact Okke Ornstein, an investigative journalist who publishes Noriegaville, (www.noriegaville.com). An article about the lawsuit is HERE: http://www.noriegaville.com/nville.php?p=382&more=1&c=1&tb=1&pb=1#more382
You can email Okke. Please publicize this lawsuit, it is a very important free speech issue. I believe that this is the first time any lawsuit has been filed in a Panamanian court based on postings made to a yahoo group.
Editor’s Note: This website, Household – HSBC Watch, was also contacted by attorneys representing HSBC in an attempt to shut down our watchdog and advocacy websites. The attorneys claimed cybersquatting. Consumer advocacy, watchdog, and complaint websites are clearly covered by free speech and other laws. It seems HSBC will go after anyone and anybody to get their way and suppress the truth about high fees, predatory lending, and past history.