Money laundering unit wired up for tech fight

Local | Erin Chan 21 Jun 2021

The police force has established a financial intelligence and investigation bureau to counter the city's surging money laundering activities.

The body was formerly known as the financial investigations division, founded in 1989 under the police's narcotics bureau. But it has been detached and made into a new bureau from June 1 as new technologies and cryptocurrencies make the investigation of money laundering more difficult.

That came as the force saw 743 money laundering cases in the first five months of this year - a 12.4 percent rise from 661 in the corresponding period last year. About HK$25.4 million worth of assets were frozen, while HK$64 million worth of assets were confiscated.

Last year saw 1,905 money laundering cases - an 11.2 percent increase from 1,713 in 2019.

The latest body, led by a chief and a senior superintendent, has three divisions. Fifty-nine positions will be added, including 58 disciplinary and one clerical, taking the total to 224.

The financial investigation division is responsible for investigating, confiscating and restraining proceeds of money laundering.

The joint financial intelligence unit is in charge of collecting and analyzing reports on suspicious transactions alongside customs, as well as deploying intelligence-led operations against money laundering.

The headquarters will have an overview of money laundering, conducting risk assessments on the activities and overseeing legislation.

The new bureau's chief superintendent, Lam Man-han, said: "Emerging virtual banks, cryptocurrencies, stored value facilities and money transfer platforms have enhanced financial liquidity and complicated money laundering activities.

"This makes investigating money laundering activities more difficult."

Senior superintendent Cheng Lai-ki from the same bureau said in a case that happened just last month, 12 scammers aged between 22 and 57 were arrested for 14 romance, investment and phone scams involving HK$8.3 million.

Their offenses included conspiracy to defraud, money laundering and conspiracy to launder money, she said.

The 12 had been released on bail pending investigation, and should report to the police in early September.

She also said police had also received a lot of reports of suspicious transactions in recent years.

"Last year, there were 57,130 such reports - a 10.7 percent rise from 51,588 in 2019," she said.

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