Family trio held after $2.5b laundering scam gets rolled

Top News | Carine Chow 23 Apr 2021

A couple and their son were among six people arrested when customs officers busted a suspected money-laundering syndicate which handled 2,600 bank transactions worth HK$2.5 billion - the highest sum this year.

Four of the six are believed to be the masterminds, including the family of three, customs said. The fourth suspect is a former driver of a currency exchange shop, who the son's mother had known for years.

They were arrested during the operation "Shadow Hunter II" between April 15 and 19, when officers raided four residential units in Tai Po and Yuen Long and seized some check books, bank cards, pin-protected security devices and mobile phones.

Officers also arrested two men aged 23 and 25 years - a chef and a car valet - who allegedly helped the son launder about HK$500 million. The mother alone allegedly laundered more than HK$1.1 billion.

Officers said the alleged activities took place between January 2018 and February 2020, involving 59 accounts and more than 2,600 transactions across nine banks.

The six were held on suspicion of "dealing with property known or reasonably believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offense."

Grace Tang Wai-ngan, head of the financial investigation group, said the mother played a "very important role" in the case. "Her personal bank accounts have handled 45 percent of the total amount of money transacted," Tang said.

"Based on our investigation, we believe that someone has taken advantage of the currency exchange shop and built his or her social network, as well as recruit those arrested to lend their bank accounts to launder HK$2.5 billion in total."

Officers said the syndicate targeted the son's two friends in mid 2020 as it had used their personal accounts to manage a large amount of unexplained transactions.

The 25-year-old, who earns HK$14,000 a month, handled HK$300 million within five months, while the 23-year-old, who makes HK$17,000 a month, handled HK$200 million from July 2019 to February 2020.

Officers are looking into whether the two men received anything for assisting the son.

Officers said the money mostly came from nonoperating shell companies and was withdrawn by either cash or checks.

Customs warned the public about job advertisements which claim people can make quick money working at home as bank accounts could be used for money laundering.

It stressed that those using personal bank accounts to deal with money from unknown sources, regardless of whether a monetary reward is involved, risk committing money laundering.

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