Family of five busted in $3b forex laundering

Local | Maisy Mok 15 Sep 2020

Customs officers have smashed their biggest ever money laundering case involving HK$3 billion following the arrests of a family of five and a money changer licensee.

The customs and excise department said the family had used more than 100 personal bank accounts to handle proceeds from unknown sources and shell companies since 2018.

In an operation code named "Shadow Hunter," officers raided four flats and a money changer on Thursday. The six arrested are aged between 25 and 62.

Seized were a computer, mobile phones, signed checkbooks from third-party individuals, bank statements and documents.

Grace Tang Wai-ngan, the financial investigative group head of the syndicate crimes investigation bureau, said the family had conducted more than 6,000 suspicious transactions over the past two years.

"Each transaction involved thousands to millions of dollars, with the largest transaction involved HK$22 million," Tang said.

The funds came from third-party individuals and firms, Tang added, noting most of them were shell companies.

The family's HK$30 million in assets, including HK$15 million in bank deposits and two properties purchased in 2018 and early this year valued at HK$7 million and HK$8 million, were frozen.

The family comprises two unemployed parents, two sons and a daughter, whose occupations are technician, manager of the money changer involved and a customer service officer.

Intelligence revealed to customs early this year that the bank account of the oldest son had seen many unusually large transactions, which caused customs to suspect the family of involving in money laundering.

The family's total assets aroused customs' suspicion because each of the siblings' monthly income ranges from HK$15,000 to HK$30,000, and their monthly total family income is only around HK$70,000.

Customs found unusually large transactions totaling over HK$170 million between a money changer's licensee and the family.

Mark Woo Wai-kwan, head of syndicate crimes investigation, believes the money changer is a cover for the money laundering to avoid arousing custom's suspicions.

"The money changer only declared HK$30 million of revenue this year, so we suspect that this money changer used other bank accounts that were not reported to the customs to transact a large total of HK$170 million with the family," Woo said.

Its license was suspended on Friday.

The customs said they are still investigating and did not rule out further arrests.

All suspects were released on bail after being detained on Thursday. They could face a maximum penalty of HK$5 million fine and 14-year imprisonment for money laundering.

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