The chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland is accused of deceiving a parliamentary committee by deliberately withholding details from a criminal investigation into alleged bribery.
The Treasury Select Committee accused Ross McEwan, the CEO of RBS since 2013, of "withholding information of interest and interest for the committee" when it appeared in January as part of its investigation into whether the taxpayer audited bank thousands of small businesses battered customers was intended to help in the outbreak of the financial crisis.
It is the latest blow to RBS as it tries to restore its battered image and draws a line under the scandal around the notorious Global Restructuring Group, which collapsed after thousands of SME customers complained that it had tried to take advantage of their misery. The Financial Conduct Authority earlier this summer concluded after four years of research that it did not have the power to penalize RBS or its senior managers at the time, as commercial loans remain largely unregulated.
In an unusually strong letter that was published late on Thursday night, Nicky Morgan, the committee chairman, wondered if Mr. McEwan's five-year term, brought as a new broom following a litany of scandals, had done much to change the culture. to change at RBS. She criticized the "tone" of Mr. McEwan in agreement with the committee, arguing that "it fits in a pattern of defense that RBS has served extremely badly in dealing with the GRG affair".
Mr. McEwan wrote last month to the limited committee to clarify that he did not link the police investigation into suspected bribery with the GRG investigation.
"The committee expects clarity and openness from the witnesses who appear before it", says the letter to Mr McEwan of 12 September. "It is your reaction [ . . . ] I did not meet this standard because you withheld information of relevance and interest. The timing and content of your letter [ . . . ] suggest that this was not an unintended summary, but a conscious choice. "
Deception of a parliamentary committee can technically be punished with a fine or even imprisonment, although the last time a person was sanctioned in this way was in the nineteenth century.
At the January hearing, Alister Jack, a Scottish Conservative Member of Parliament on the committee, asked McEwan if he was aware of any criminal activity by RBS employees, and Mr McEwan replied that he was not. This despite an investigation by Police Scotland into allegations that a former RBS manager had taken bribes from small businesses in exchange for leniency on their debts. The Times reported in July that the bank itself had submitted the case to the police eight months earlier; a month before Mr. McEwan appeared before the limited committee.
M. McEwan said in a mailed statement on Thursday evening that he was "disappointed" by the limited committee's response.
"It is of utmost importance to me that the committee is confident that it can rely on the accuracy of my evidence," he said. "I answered the committee's questions in good faith and explained my point of view in writing In this particular case, the allegations we have referred to Police Scotland did not address the issues that the FCA considered as part of the four-year investigation to the treatment by GRG of SME customers in the period from 2008 to 2013. I am confident that if the legal process has taken its course, this will be a unique case. "
Mr. McEwan is the last chief executive who is guilty of the commission. In June, it said it had lost confidence in Paul Pester, TSB's boss, to give a full and candid account of the consequences of a massive IT failure that excluded thousands of customers from their accounts and vulnerable to online fraud. He left the bank earlier this month.