Hong Kong is now paying its leader’s $672,000 salary in cash

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam says that she has “piles of cash” at home because she is denied basic banking services due to U.S. sanctions.

In a television interview, Lam said the Hong Kong government has to pay her in cash because she does not have a bank account following sanctions imposed by the U.S. on her and other officials for what it called their role in undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy from mainland China, including imposing a national security law on the city at the end of June.

“Sitting in front of you is a chief executive of the Hong Kong SAR (special administrative region) who has no banking services made available to her,” Lam told Hong Kong International Business Channel. “I’m using cash every day, for all the things. I have piles of cash at home because the government is paying me cash for my salary because I don’t have a bank account.”

U.S. President Donald Trump imposed the sanctions in August on Chinese and Hong Kong officials including Lam; Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of China’s State Council; and Chris Tang, commissioner of the city’s police. Among other things, the sanctions mean any banks that do business with them risk penalties that would threaten their access to the U.S. financial system.

In October, the State Department sent a similar list to Congress naming 10 officials including Lam. U.S. since then has started a 60-day countdown to identify banks that have business with those people, putting lenders at risk of being sanctioned.

Even China’s largest state-run banks operating in Hong Kong have had to comply to preserve their access to crucial dollar funding. Major lenders with operations in the U.S. including Bank of China Ltd., China Construction Bank Corp., and China Merchants Bank Co. have turned cautious on opening new accounts for the sanctioned officials, including Lam, Bloomberg News reported in August.

Lam, who earns about HK$5.2 million ($672,000) in the year of 2020, said she only withdraws part of her salary, with the remaining kept in the treasury and she will take back her unpaid salary “at a point in time,” in comments to the South China Morning Post.

“It’s very honorable in this set of circumstances to be so unjustifiably sanctioned by the U.S. government. It’s an honor,” Lam said. She has repeatedly blasted the U.S. sanctions as unjustified interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.

The new national security law, which criminalized subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, has enabled authorities to clamp down on Hong Kong’s political opposition, arresting pro-democracy activists and banning lawmakers from running in legislative elections.

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