On 28 January 2016, a federal judge in the US ruled that a secret report on HSBC Holdings PLC (HSBC) regarding its anti-money laundering control systems must be made public because, as the judge stated in its ruling, “this case implicates matters of great public concern that is therefore one which the public has an interest in overseeing”. The report was made in 2012 as a condition of the company’s US$1.92 billion settlement with the US government due its anti-money laundering failings.

The ruling came in response to a former customer’s request, who expressed broad concerns about the bank’s controls and intended to tackle banks’ usual practice to keep such reports secret from the government. During recent years, US banks have increasingly been required to use outside monitors to review the efficiency of their anti-money laundering controls. Authorities insist on banks using them as a condition for not pursuing criminal or civil charges against companies. However little is made public about these outside monitors’ practices, what they are trying to accomplish, their fees or the outcomes of the reports.

Both HSBC and the US Department of Justice expressed concerns that the release of the report could make it easier for criminals to launder money. Judge Gleeson gave HSBC and the government until 12 February 2016 to propose redactions of some of the report’s details that could threaten HSBC’s employees privacy or help criminals exploit weaknesses in the bank’s controls.