Hong Kong police arrested 13 people on Tuesday and Wednesday on suspicion of submitting bogus applications seeking more than HK$1.7 million (US$218,987) from the government’s coronavirus pandemic relief fund.
The five men and eight women, aged 23 to 67, were accused of using fake personal details and documents to file 42 applications between March of last year and this January seeking payments from the fund set up for struggling retailers, party rooms, and beauty and massage parlours.
Chief Inspector Chung Chi-keung, of the Hong Kong Island regional crime unit, said on Wednesday that police began investigating after receiving complaints from the secretariat of the Anti-epidemic Fund. The most sought in a single application was HK$240,000.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
“The applicants concerned have never run relevant or qualified businesses at the registered office addresses. Some did not run any operations at all,” Chung said.
Under the government’s scheme, which has since ended, operators of beauty and massage establishments were eligible for one-off allowances of up to HK$100,000 for each business, depending on the number of employees. Party room operators could receive up to HK$40,000, while retail stores could apply for HK$80,000.
Officers made arrests across the city on Tuesday and Wednesday, seizing documents, phones, computers and bank statements in the process.
“We also discovered some altered pictures showing businesses in operation and edited rental agreements,” Chung said.
Those detained included self-proclaimed businessmen and unemployed people. They were accused of fraud and attempted fraud, which carry a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.
The government had approved 18 of the allegedly phoney applications and disbursed HK$620,000 to the suspects. Police managed to freeze HK$190,000 of that money in suspects’ bank accounts.
Police arrested 24 people last September in connection with similar attempts to cheat the fund out of more than HK$1.6 million.
This article Hong Kong police arrest 13 on suspicion of trying to defraud government coronavirus relief fund first appeared on South China Morning Post