Corruption continues to be an illness inflicting the minds of Egyptians. The illegal practice, normalised under Mubarak’s thirty years of institutionalised corruption, goes well beyond the government creating a toxic environment, in various fields, that threatens the livelihoods of the brave few who refuse to stay silent when they witness a crime being committed. Former HSBC Bank Egypt employee, Amr Ameen, is one of the brave few, who blew the whistle after discovering massive fraud in his department. However, instead of rewarding him for taking the appropriate action, the Bank decided to fire him, and upon learning that Ameen will pursue legal action have allegedly planned dirty tactics to discredit Ameen by attempting to paint him as a drug addict. Wanting to learn more about this strange case of fraud, we exclusively reached out to Ameen, who was willing to share his story about what went horribly wrong during his time working at HSBC Bank Egypt.
When we reached out to Ameen, we were instantly surprised to hear that the former HSBC Bank Egypt employee had plenty of positive things to say about working for the financial institution. Initially hired by HSBC Electronic Data Systems Delivery (EDSD) in 2010, Ameen spoke fondly of the five years he spent there, before being promoted and transferred to HSBC Bank Egypt in 2015. “There’s a huge difference between HSBC EDSD and HSBC Bank Egypt from the type of work, the atmosphere, the ethics, the values, everything is different. HSBC EDSD is like a closed community where we all live and breathe the values of HSBC,” Ameen reminisces. It was during his orientation at HSBC EDSD that his manager instilled the values of doing the right thing - that if a serious issue is being ignored by management, any employee can call HSBC UK disclosure line to report illegal activity. The distinct difference that Ameen immediately noticed between the HSBC EDSD and Bank Egypt is that at EDSD employees worked under international management, while at HSBC Egypt the management was exclusively Egyptian.
That’s when I knew values do not work here; if your boss likes you, you are safe, if he doesn’t, he can open the gates of hell on you
The environment was a stark contrast to what Ameen encountered at HSBC Bank Egypt. “From day one, I noticed the difference in how people were treating each other,” the whistleblower says. After garnering a reputation as being good with numbers, one of his new colleagues approached him to look at his numbers; Ameen's workmate was baffled that his high sales were resulting in a low appraisal of his performance. Ameen decided to help and created his colleague a chart that compared his performance, to the rest of the team, providing him with a report that warranted an escalation with his manager, which was completely ignored. “That’s when I knew values do not work here; if your boss likes you, you are safe, if he doesn’t, he can open the gates of hell on you,” Ameen nightmarishly describes.
The gates of hell didn’t open for Ameen during this case, but rather when another colleague approached him with a screenshot of the system showing sales numbers of the department that failed to make any sense to the banker who says: “I took the screenshot to the lady responsible for generating the numbers, I told her how are you not aware of this. To my huge surprise, she told me, ‘I am aware of this, I already formally escalated this to the head of the department and here’s the email I sent.’ The email proved that the head of the department had been aware of this since April and had done nothing about it.” Even more troublesome was that Ameen learned that another colleague had also raised the issue to no avail.
I spent three to four hours extracting the numbers to find out the variance and found that the variance was HUGE. I took the documents to the head of the department and he looked at me and said, with a very angry look, ‘I don’t want anyone to talk to me about this anymore.
Unwilling to let this major discrepancy pass, Ameen decided to analyse the numbers and bring it directly to the head of the department. “I spent three to four hours extracting the numbers to find out the variance and found that the variance was HUGE. I took the documents to the head of the department and he looked at me and said, with a very angry look, ‘I don’t want anyone to talk to me about this anymore.’ I was shocked,” Ameen says of their meeting that lasted a minute at most.
Faced with this escalation roadblock as the numbers continued to be manipulated, Ameen remembered his training at HSBC EDSD and decided to call the UK hotline in June. “I told them exactly what happened, what evidence I had collected, and they asked me to send them an email with everything I had. A couple of days after, the head of the investigation team in Cairo asked me to come to his office and that was the point it all went wrong. The offices are all in transparent glass, so once I was seen walking into the head of the Investigation’s office, I was kind of marked,” Ameen reckons. The probe took two to three months and uncovered that the number manipulation wasn’t only a problem with Ameen’s department but in the whole branch, resulting in a nationwide investigation.
Ameen started realising that everyone knew that he had contacted the UK disclosure line and started noticing that he was facing discrimination. “I was being treated in an extremely rude way that I wasn’t used to. I filed the escalation in June and by the end of August, I started realising that I was being discriminated against,” Ameen describes. He claims that attempts were made to sabotage his work as his managers began placing ridiculous deadlines and benchmarks while removing key members of his team. As the investigation concluded, Ameen was vindicated as his complaint of fraudulent numbers proved to be true and extended beyond his department, resulting in several people being fired. “In the last couple of days in January, I found that all the employees involved were fired. There were four in my department and about seven from the branch network, but they only fired the employees and not the managers,” a frustrated Ameen tells us.
On February 23rd, almost a month after the employees were fired, Ameen was called into the head of the department’s office and was given two options; resign or be fired. “I told them to fire me, and he said if we fire you, you will never be able to work again in Egypt. He asked me why I wouldn’t want to quit and I just lost it a bit, saying you’re firing me overnight while I have a family to support. ‘Oh, if it’s a matter of money, I can give you two months’ salary if you resign,’ I said thank you very much, I will not continue this conversation until my lawyer is present,” Ameen firmly responded.
His superiors were instantly upset that he may try and escalate the issue and immediately stripped Ameen of his ID, keys, and rudely escorted him out of the office, without allowing him to collect his personal belongings. After his dismissal, one of his colleagues told him that the managers had gathered all the employees and told them that Ameen was let go for violating the escalation matrix, or in laymen terms, breaking the chain of command. Quoting his colleague, Ameen tells us the managers told the employees: “We are one family, when you see someone doing something wrong in your family, you try to fix it in the family, you don’t bring people from the outside.” It remains a mystery why HSBC UK has a disclosure line and yet nothing in place to protect those who use it. Nevertheless, Ameen immediately called the disclosure line about his dismissal and received an investigation number, but he simply can’t wait for six months for it to conclude as he has a family to support.
Take care, they are planning a dirty move, and they are going to claim you are a drug addict. On Friday, someone wrote on my wall: ‘Did you forget to mention you were a drug addict and you smoke drugs on premises with your team?
Deeply upset by the situation, Ameen took to Facebook to explain his position, tagging every HSBC branch he could find. His bravery seemed to have touched many working in HSBC, and to his surprise, he began receiving phone calls from employees that he didn’t even know, not only supporting his stance, but also informing him of similar problems they have encountered. Since his departure, Ameen claims that there are “14 cases brought to me by people I don’t know, that’s outside of the people I do know and who are closely working in the organisation who have been treated unfairly, and who, unfortunately, decided not to escalate and let go of their rights. But, when they saw me taking it to another level, they said if you are going to take [the case] to court, we are with you and we will help pay for everything.”
With a collection of documents, vindicated by the HSBC UK investigation, and plenty of colleagues willing to testify, Ameen has prepared a strong case, and it seems that word has reached management as a former colleague recently called Ameen to warn him saying: “Take care, they are planning a dirty move, and they are going to claim you are a drug addict. On Friday, someone wrote on my wall: ‘Did you forget to mention you were a drug addict and you smoke drugs on premises with your team?’” The post seemed to have come from a fake account using the name of one of his friends on Facebook, but with no pictures and no activity. The account has since been deleted, but not before Ameen took a screenshot and posted it on his wall.
It will be hard to prove that the HSBC Bank Egypt were behind the slanderous post, but then again, discrediting an employee by calling them a drug addict is a classic Egyptian move, often used to discredit anyone making accusations against superiors. However, the ever-vigilant Ameen has not been deterred from seeking justice and advises anyone in a similar situation to, “always do the right thing, and do not hesitate to speak up, if you let the corruption grow, it will get to you one way or another. Speak up, and prepare yourself for the worse because those people don’t play fair. They play very dirty so be safe and whatever documents you have to prove your claims, prepare them by making sure to cover all the specifics.”
Whether the case goes to trial or not, Ameen has already managed to stand out as a rarity in a country plagued by corruption. Hopefully, Egyptians will take note and be inspired by Ameen’s bravery, because although this case surrounds HSBC Egypt Bank, it is indicative of a larger problem inflicting the nation. Egyptian officials often point to a few bad apples, claiming they are responsible for spoiling the branch of government or enterprise, and yet, the ones who end up penalised or removed are not the bad apples, but the ones who spotted them. Removing the bad apples from society will not happen until the country, or in this case, the company protects those brave enough to speak up.
(Photo From BBC)