16 arrested in money laundering bust involving HK$99m illicit funds, including foreign domestic helpers

Insert picture: Kwong Yin-ting

29th November 2023 – (Hong Kong) In a significant operation, the Financial Intelligence and Investigation Bureau (FIIB) of the Hong Kong Police Force successfully dismantled a local money laundering syndicate. The syndicate, operating since January this year, recruited foreign domestic helpers to open bank accounts in Hong Kong for a meagre fee of HK$200 to 500 per account. These accounts were then utilised to receive and launder proceeds from various fraudulent activities, including approximately HK$3.4 million from 52 cases of deception.

Members of the syndicate would arrange meetings with the domestic helpers in parks or fast-food restaurants and guide them through the process of opening bank accounts using a mobile application. During the account setup, they would input customized account names and passwords, enabling the syndicate to maintain control over the accounts. In a coordinated operation across different districts, the FIIB arrested 16 individuals, including 14 foreign domestic helpers. The investigation also exposed two key members involved in laundering over HK$45 million between January 2021 and November 2022 using 13 personal accounts. Overall, the syndicate has laundered an estimated HK$99 million of illicit funds since 2021.

The FIIB initiated an intelligence-led operation in March, which involved extensive investigations and analysis to identify the local money laundering syndicate. It was discovered that the syndicate enticed foreign domestic helpers with monetary incentives to open bank accounts, which were subsequently used to receive and launder funds obtained through various fraudulent schemes. On 27th November, the FIIB conducted arrests throughout Hong Kong, apprehending 16 individuals on charges of conspiracy to launder money and money laundering. Among the arrested individuals were 13 Filipino women and one Indonesian woman, aged between 21 and 54. Four of them were key members of the syndicate, while the remaining 12 were account holders acting as proxies. The arrested individuals claimed to work as construction workers, domestic helpers, or were unemployed.

Senior Inspector Kwong Yin-ting of the FIIB revealed yesterday that the syndicate recruited foreign domestic helpers to open at least 25 bank accounts in Hong Kong, charging them fees ranging from HK$200 to 500 per account between January and August 2023. The helpers were instructed to meet syndicate members in parks or fast-food restaurants, where they were guided through the process of opening accounts using pre-prepared mobile phones and applications. During the setup, the helpers inputted customized account names and passwords. Once the banks approved the applications, the accounts fell under the control of the criminal syndicate.

Subsequently, the syndicate engaged in fraudulent activities such as job scams and investment scams, where victims, following the instructions of the fraudsters, would deposit funds into these proxy accounts. After collecting the ill-gotten gains in the proxy accounts, the syndicate would conduct multiple transfers to evade detection by law enforcement authorities. Kwong Yin-ting stated that since January 2023, the syndicate had utilised the 25 bank accounts associated with the foreign domestic helpers to handle over HKD 54 million of suspected criminal proceeds. This included approximately HK$3.4 million from at least 52 cases of deception, encompassing job scams, investment scams, online shopping scams, and telephone scams, resulting in a total loss of HK$26 million for the victims. The investigation also uncovered that two key members of the syndicate had laundered over HK$45 million of unexplained funds between January 2021 and November 2022 using 13 personal accounts.

Kwong Yin-ting emphasised that the operation had successfully dismantled an active local money laundering syndicate, and the police are currently tracing the flow of funds. All arrested individuals have been granted bail until mid-January next year. The investigation remains ongoing, and further arrests are not ruled out. Kwong further highlighted the concerning trend of criminal syndicates recruiting foreign domestic helpers to open mobile banking accounts for the purpose of receiving and laundering proceeds from fraudulent activities. In response, the police will continue to enhance public awareness and education on anti-money laundering measures through various channels, including consulates and social media platforms, with the aim of effectively disseminating information to newly arrived foreign domestic helpers and those already working in Hong Kong.