Hong Kong customs has arrested a 51-year-old woman for allegedly using her bank accounts to launder more than HK$350 million (US$44.5 million) in suspected criminal proceeds over a period of three years.
According to a senior customs official on Wednesday, the department’s investigation showed the woman had allegedly laundered the funds, including one transaction involving HK$15 million, using 23 bank accounts between November 2018 and October 2021. But he said the suspect had only earned between HK$8,000 and HK$15,000 per month working for a money exchange company during that period.
The Post has learned that the suspect’s former employer, who owned another money exchange company, was among six people rounded up in connection with a HK$3 billion money-laundering case in 2020, the largest to be uncovered by customs.
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The woman was picked up on Wednesday morning when a team of officers from customs’ syndicate crimes investigation bureau raided her home in Jordan. Her mobile phone and several bank cards were also seized during the operation.
She was detained on suspicion of money laundering – an offence that is punishable by up to 14 years in jail and a HK$5 million fine.
Customs said officers began looking into the case following the arrest of the woman’s former employer in September 2020.
Senior Inspector Felix Wong Chun-yu of the bureau said the investigation indicated her bank accounts handled over HK$350 million in a series of more than 1,500 transactions since November 2018.
“In the modus operandi of this money-laundering operation, her 23 bank accounts were used to collect the money from over 160 personal bank accounts and more than 20 business accounts,” he said.
“She then moved the funds to more than 160 personal accounts and at least 15 business accounts via money transfers or cash deposits.”
Wong said the large sums of money handled using the woman’s accounts were not consistent with her profile and financial background, leading the department to suspect she was involved in money-laundering activities.
A law enforcement source said the illegal operation had employed traditional money-laundering tactics such as depositing and withdrawing funds within one day and moving cash from one account to another before returning it to the original one.
The investigation showed most of the bank accounts used to launder money belonged to shell companies and were set up by third-party individuals from mainland China.
According to Hong Kong customs, an active investigation was still under way and further arrests were possible.
Wong said officers were still working to determine the source of the money, the flow of the funds and the final recipients.
Between April 28 and June 7, local authorities broke up four syndicates involved in the laundering of illegal proceeds since 2020, with the funds collectively worth HK$5.4 billion.
The city’s largest money-laundering case – involving HK$13.1 billion – came to light with the arrest of a 22-year-old man from the mainland in 2012.
Between August 2009 and April 2010, the 22-year-old laundered the money by making 4,800 deposits to his bank accounts. He was sentenced to 10½ years in jail in January 2013.
In Hong Kong, banks, securities and insurance firms, legal and accounting professionals and property agents are required to report any suspicious transactions.
In the first five months of this year, the Joint Financial Intelligence Unit, comprising both police and customs officers, handled 27,050 reports of suspicious financial activity.
Figures from the unit showed reports of such activity dropped from 92,115 in 2017 to 56,912 in 2021.
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