Hong Kong aid increasingly targeted by money laundering unions, police warn as education campaign kicks off

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Hong Kong foreign domestic workers, dozens of whom were caught in summer undercover operations involving more than HK $ 39 million (US $ 5 million), are at the center of a new campaign education aimed at stemming the growing trend of money laundering in the city.

Concerns about the vulnerability of the community helping money laundering syndicates emerged following the arrest of 34 domestic workers who allegedly accepted payments of HK $ 1,000 or more to open bank accounts on behalf of criminal groups.

Chief Inspector Chan Chung-yan of the force’s Financial Intelligence and Investigation Bureau said on Monday that assistants would then hand over their passwords or ATM cards.

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Hong Kong police arrest 29 in crackdown on money laundering union

“Many have received anonymous messages on social media or via phone calls asking if they are interested in earning additional income. The criminals would then persuade the workers to sell them their bank accounts, ”she said at a press conference unveiling the campaign.

“The accounts sold would then be fully controlled by the criminals, who would deposit a large sum of money and then withdraw it to clean up the union money.”

Money laundering-related arrests have increased, with 661 arrests made in the first nine months of 2021, nearly double the 364 last year.

In June and July of this year, the bureau launched a pair of operations targeting two money laundering syndicates that allegedly washed HK $ 23 million and HK $ 27 million through 21 and 35 bank accounts, respectively.

Of this amount, approximately HK $ 39 million is believed to have involved accounts belonging to domestic helpers, with a single account accounting for HK $ 2.4 million.

Chan explained that criminals usually recruit domestic helpers because they are more sensitive to financial incentives.

“A few thousand dollars can be very attractive to domestic helpers,” she said.

The minimum wage in Hong Kong for domestic helpers is currently HK $ 4,630 per month.

But ignorance of local laws was also seen as a problem.

“Even our local citizens may not know much about the laws relating to money laundering. With the language barrier, it is even more difficult for housekeepers to learn about the laws.

To this end, the police plan to start educating the general public about money laundering, including holding talks and distributing materials on the subject on city streets.

Hong Kong police arrest 32 people for selling their bank accounts to crooks

Promotional leaflets intended for domestic helpers, mostly from the Philippines or Indonesia, are written in their mother tongue.

But Chief Inspector Lai Wai-chun said the growth in money laundering showed more unions than ever were involved and assistants were far from their only recruiting targets.

“They no longer target a specific age or income group, but use social media platforms to attract people of all ages and from all income groups,” he said.

“With the economic downturn of the past few years, criminals have also targeted the general public’s desire to make easy money… so there is often a huge group of individuals arrested in a single case. “

Nine people arrested in HK $ 900million money laundering in Hong Kong

While most of the arrested domestic workers said they had no knowledge of the criminal activity that took place once they turned in their accounts, it was still possible that they broke the law, the senior inspector said. Yeung Chin-wing.

“If the person did not have a suitable reason as to why they lent or sold their bank accounts, once the accounts were used for money laundering, the person could have committed the offense of money laundering. money, “he added.

The maximum penalty for money laundering is 14 years in prison and a fine of HK $ 5 million, although none of the assistants arrested in June and July have yet to be charged.

Yeung called on employers of domestic workers to remind them that they should never pass on their bank account passwords to others, and to take note if they spend an excessive amount of money or receive an unusual amount of money. bank letters.

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