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Fired HSBC executive sues for US$23 million amid racism allegation

[LONDON] HSBC Holdings Plc was sued by a manager who said he was underpaid and ultimately dismissed because senior staff had a problem with the fact he was Turkish and a Muslim.

Habib Kaya Biber, the former co-head of the bank's industrials unit, was treated with "utter disrespect" after 10 years at the bank, his lawyers said in documents filed at a London employment tribunal Tuesday. He is seeking 15 million pounds (S$31.8 million), HSBC said in its own filing.

HSBC "has not offered a consistent or coherent explanation as to why it sought to remove one of the co-head positions," Mr Biber's lawyer, Richard Leiper, said in documents prepared for a trial that started this week. He was fired because of his religious, "national or ethnic origins," Leiper said.

Mr Biber's compensation for unfair dismissal would be capped at about 80,000 pounds by UK employment laws, but claims for discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability, orientation, religion or age are unlimited.

Mr Biber, who holds German and Turkish citizenship, was in charge of building an investment banking business in the industrials area. He was paid 23,000 pounds a month, rising to 40,000 pounds, including bonuses, according to his lawsuit. This was less than colleagues with the same job title, he said.

His revenue figures were "low" in 2011 and 2012, and dropped to zero in 2013, according to the bank's opening statement. His target was US$10 million.

Mr Habib, who was fired in May of last year, "was a poor performer whose bonus payments and ultimate dismissal were the direct results of his own failure to develop a revenue-rich investment banking business within Industrials," the bank said in its response filed to the tribunal.

HSBC also said in court documents that Mr Biber was warned that his behavior toward junior colleagues was "overly aggressive." "I have killed many an associate in my time, one more won't matter," Mr Biber replied, HSBC said in the filing.

A bank spokeswoman said HSBC would defend itself vigorously. Mr Habib's lawyers didn't respond to e-mails seeking comment.