14 travel agency directors held in $3m scam

Top News | Erin Chan 22 Apr 2021

Fourteen directors of local travel agencies were among 19 people arrested for trying to cheat HK$2.95 million off a pandemic subsidy scheme for the travel industry by forging receipts.

The Green Lifestyle Local Tour Incentive Scheme - jointly launched by the government and the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong in 2019 - aims to boost tourism and encourage the public to get close to nature and practice a green lifestyle, thereby fostering economic revival.

It is the first fraud involving the scheme, police said yesterday.

The 19 suspects - 13 men and six women aged between 32 and 83 - include the 14 directors and five staff members of 15 travel agencies. They were arrested for fraud in the past two days and were still being detained as of last night.

Eastern district crime squad chief inspector Lo Yin-lam said the case came to light in October when the Travel Industry Council was vetting applications filed by the agencies between May and July. The council found 15 of the 16 applications came with forged receipts.

"They include those from restaurants, coach services and travel insurance, which the travel agencies used to apply for funds without holding any tours," he said.

Lo said only one application, subject to HK$50,000 in funds, was approved. He also said the forged receipts strongly resembled the genuine ones.

"Some were made from genuine receipts, with its original information altered," he said.

Police said more arrests are possible.

Under the scheme, each tour participant served by a travel agency receives a HK$200 fund - the quota of participants for each travel agency is 1,000, meaning each agency can be granted up to HK$200,000.

But this is on the condition that travel agencies arrange tours to specific travel attractions, with receipts from restaurants, coach services and travel insurance handed to the council after for refunds.

A total of 429 licensed travel agencies were granted with the conditional exemption to organize local group tours and registered local travel routes as of December, according to the council.

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