Credit Suisse has endured an onslaught of embarrassing headlines already this year following the collapse of Greensill and the blowup of Archegos, incidents that cost the bank billions of francs and damaged its reputation.
But while this latest controversy probably won't impact the bank's bottom line, it does offer a glimpse of the conflicts and difficult decisions certain banks must make if they decide to grow their business in China. In a blog post published this week, Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei revealed that Credit Suisse had decided to close his foundation's bank account because of his "criminal record" in China. Despite the fact that the dissident has never been convicted of a crime.
Ai is one of China's most well-known artists, who received acclaim for designing Beijing's bird nest stadium from the 2008 Olympics, but eventually fell out of favor and fled the country because of his dissident politics. Ai now lives in Portugal, where he apparently wrote an opinion piece for Artnet decrying Credit Suisse's decision to close his organization's account, which was almost certainly made after being pressured by Beijing.
Though, oddly, news of the decision was reported by the SCMP, which is owned by Alibaba founder Jack Ma is known for a subtle pro-CCP bias.
Credit Suisse declined to comment to SCMP for its story. "Credit Suisse initially informed me that they had a new policy to terminate all bank accounts which are related to people with criminal records," Ai said. The bank asked that the funds be moved by September.
Ai was never formally charged with a crime, but he was detained for 81 days in 2011, an experience that featured into his later artwork.
Ai said he was first contacted by the bank's managers in June and asked about an interview he had done with a Swiss newspaper several days before, in which he criticized Swiss people for voting in favor of tighter "anti-immigrant policies". Ai said this interview was cited as a reason for the closure. He added that some funds still remain in the account, but that they must be moved soon and that the account was mostly frozen.
But that was most likely a ruse. As global megabanks jockey for favor with the CCP, they're being extremely careful not to do anything that might lead to them being shut out of the extremely lucrative private wealth business in China. CS and others have already conducted reviews of all their clients in Hong Kong, looking for ties to the pro-democracy movement in the city. Any clients with ties were immediately let go.