Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam recently said she keeps “piles of cash” at home because banks have refused to provide services to her after she was hit with U.S. sanctions.
Lam was among 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials who were blacklisted by the Trump administration in early August for their roles in undermining the city’s autonomy and freedoms. The sanctions were part of a range of U.S. responses after Beijing imposed a national security law on the Chinese-ruled city on June 30, which punishes vaguely defined crimes such as succession and subversion with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
Lam said she’s a leader “who has no banking services made available to her,” in an interview on Nov. 27 with local English-language media Hong Kong International Business Channel.
She said: “I’m using cash every day. I have piles of cash at home—the government is paying me cash for my salary because I don’t have a bank account.”
It’s said that Lam is one of the highest-paid leaders in the world. According to a Hong Kong government report, she’s earning about HK$5.21 million (about $672,200) in salary for the fiscal year 2020 to 2021.
In 2019, USA Today ranked the highest-paid leaders in the world as of April 2018. On the top of the list was Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong with an annual salary of $1.6 million, followed by Lam in second place with $568,400, and President Donald Trump fourth with $400,000.
Also during the interview, Lam said it was “an honor” to be sanctioned by the U.S. government.
Lam’s remarks weren’t the first time she described the effects of U.S. sanctions on her. In mid-August, Lam told China’s state-run media CGTN that she faced “a little bit of inconvenience” because her use of credit cards was “hampered” by U.S. sanctions.
Lam’s inability to have a bank account with mainland Chinese banks is in part due to the fact that most of the world’s financial transactions between banks go through the Belgium-based SWIFT system, which is dominated by the U.S. dollar. Chinese banks thus run the risk of being cut off from global financial markets if they fail to comply with U.S. sanctions and continue to provide services to sanctioned individuals.
SWIFT, short for Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, is a messaging network that allows banks and other financial institutes to make quick and secure transactions, including money transfers.
In August, Bloomberg reported that some China state-run banks were taking steps to comply with U.S. sanctions on the 11 Hong Kong and Chinese officials, with one unnamed bank having already suspended its account activity with them.
Benedict Rogers, chief executive of British nonprofit Hong Kong Watch, took to his Twitter account on Nov. 28 to point out that Lam’s remarks show that sanctions work. He urged British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to impose sanctions on Lam immediately.
Earlier this month, Raab’s deputy, Nigel Adams, told the UK Parliament that Britain “will continue to consider designations under the “Magnitsky-style sanctions regime” against individuals over the regime’s actions in the city, according to Reuters.
Last week, the British government concluded that Beijing made “substantive breaches” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in its latest 6-monthly report on Hong Kong.
The Chinese regime and the United Kingdom signed the Sino–British Joint Declaration in 1984, which paved the way for Hong Kong’s handover back to China in 1997.
Under the treaty, the Chinese Communist Party pledged that for at least 50 years after 1997, Hongkongers would enjoy autonomy and freedoms not granted to those in mainland China under a model known as “one country, two systems.”