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Police swoop on HK$1.1 billion money launderers in Hong Kong and Macao

Gang used virtual currency to launder cash gained from internet and phone swindles; five suspects in Macao face organised crime membership charges.

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Gang used virtual currency to launder cash gained from internet and phone swindles; five suspects in Macao face organised crime membership charges.

ARTICLE BY

PUBLISHED

UPDATED: 22 Dec 2023, 4:40 am

Police in Hong Kong and Macao have arrested 22 suspects after breaking up a money laundering syndicate which scammed more than HK$1.1 billion from unwary customers.

Judiciary Police (PJ) spokeswoman Lei Hon Nei said out of the 22 suspects, five who were arrested in Macao include two Hong Kong jobless men surnamed Chen and Tse, aged 24 and 31, while the two other male suspects, surnamed Chong and Lam, are locals aged 37 and 23. Chong is unemployed. 

The fifth suspect arrested in Macao is surnamed Chung, aged 33, who worked as a salesman with Lam in a telecom shop in ZAPE.

Lei said the joint operation between the Hong Kong and Macao police was launched on 31 March. Lei said that the syndicate laundered money using virtual currency, and the PJ believe that more suspects are still operating in Macao.  

The police then discovered multiple Hong Kong bank accounts belonging to the syndicate, which had been used for laundering money from fraud schemes since October 2020. Lei pointed out that 32 victims were scammed out of HK$84 million by the syndicate, who employed internet love swindles and government impersonator phone scams. 

Lei said that on Tuesday afternoon, an operation was launched to apprehend 11 male and six female suspects in Hong Kong and the five suspects in Macao on the same day. 

According to Lei, the syndicate laundered over HK$ 1.1 billion through 181 bank accounts set up by the suspects, their family members and friends. Lei did not reveal how much the people opening accounts for laundering the money were paid, nor whether the police would arrest them. 

Lei said the HK$1.1 billion came from unidentified sources abroad, besides the syndicate’s own scam operations, adding that the syndicate had withdrawn over HK$350 million from ATMs since its operation began. 

According to Lei, during the police operation in Macao, Chen and Tse were picked up in a hotel guestroom in ZAPE, together with HK$115,000 cash, 102 bank cards, six mobile phones and other valuables. 

Lei said HK$1.89 million related to 12 of the 32 scams since October 2020 was transferred through the duo’s bank accounts, and from December 2021 to this month the pair had withdrawn cash more than 1,000 times from ATMs, netting more than HK$28.4 million from the laundering accounts and unidentified sources overseas.

Lei said Chong was apprehended in his flat near Hac Sa Beach, where HK$874,000 in cash, 33 bank cards and two mobile phones were seized. The two salesmen Lam and Chung, Lei said, were arrested at the telecom shop in ZAPE, while HK$1.48 million in cash, two mobile phones and password breakers were seized from them. 

Lei said that the salesmen were responsible for buying the virtual currency in their telecom store with the scammed money, selling the virtual currency on international websites and depositing the proceeds into the syndicate’s bank accounts. 

According to Lei, while the Hong Kong duo confessed that they had withdrawn cash from the ATMs, they refused to admit they were involved in money laundering, and claimed that the money was not from illegal activities. Lei said Chong told the police that he had merely driven the suspects to withdraw money and bought virtual currency, while the two salesmen refused to cooperate. The five suspects were sent to the Public Prosecutions Office yesterday, facing money laundering and organised crime membership charges. 

Hong Kong media yesterday quoted the police there as saying that the total sum laundered by the syndicate amounted to HK$2.2 billion, double the amount mentioned by their Macao counterparts. 

However police sources in Macao said that they have a different method of calculating the amount laundered by the syndicate from the Hong Kong police, adding that the Hong Kong police counted the amounts sent and those received as two separate sums of money, while the Macao police combined the two transactions as one, and thus the amount mentioned by the Hong Kong police is double the one mentioned by their local counterparts, The Macau Post Daily reported.

 

UPDATED: 22 Dec 2023, 4:40 am

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