Fourteen directors, five workers at 15 travel agencies arrested on suspicion of attempting to cheat Hong Kong authorities out of nearly HK$3 million by using forged papers for subsidy scheme

Clifford Lo
·2-min read

Fourteen directors and five employees of 15 travel agencies have been arrested on suspicion of attempting to cheat the government out of nearly HK$3 million (US$386,500) under a subsidy scheme to relaunch Hong Kong’s tourism industry and foster local economic revival.

The 13 men and six women, aged 32 to 83, were accused of using forged documents to apply for subsidy under the Green Lifestyle Local Tour Incentive Scheme. Police said it was the first offence of this kind for the scheme.

The fake documents used in the applications were mainly receipts from restaurants, tourist bus companies and insurance firms, according to the force.

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“We suspect travel agencies involved did not organise related tours and used fake receipts to apply for the government subsidy. The amount involved was HK$2.95 million in total,” Chief Inspector Lo Yin-lam of the Eastern district crime squad said.

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The scheme, designed to stimulate spending and support tourism and related sectors, including catering and transport, was introduced in December, 2019.

Travel agencies are required to organise green tours to apply for subsidy under the scheme. The cash incentive amount per tour participant is HK$200 and the maximum amount of cash incentives each travel agent can get is HK$200,000.

The case came to light when the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong assessed applications and called related parties, such as restaurants and tourist bus companies, to verify.

Lo said the fraud involved 16 applications filed by 15 local travel agencies between May and July last year.

One of the applications, involving HK$50,000, was approved while the others were rejected.

“The travel agencies involved are relatively small in scale and have been operating for between two and 20 years,” he said.

After an investigation, officers arrested the 19 Hongkongers during a series of raids on Tuesday and Wednesday.

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The suspects were arrested for conspiracy to defraud – an offence that carries a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.

As of Wednesday afternoon, all the suspects were being held for questioning and had not been charged.

Police said the investigation was continuing and further arrests were possible.

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