Hong Kong’s police force budget boost unlocks creation of new bureau specialising in financial crimes investigation

Christy Leung

Hong Kong’s police force will soon have a dedicated bureau specialising in financial investigations, along with a doubling of the number of detectives qualified to handle them, as the city steps up an ongoing crackdown on money laundering and terrorist financing, the Post has learned.

A government source familiar with plans for the new Financial Intelligence and Investigation Bureau emphasised it had been in the works for more than a decade and was unrelated to the social unrest that had rocked the city since June.

The revelation follows the release of a new city budget that provides for a ramping up of force manpower by more than 7 per cent – its biggest boost in decades – with an extra 2,500 positions to cope with operational needs.

The new city budget unveiled on February 26 includes provisions that will boost the ranks of the Hong Kong Police Force by 2,500. Photo: Dickson Lee

The source said the new bureau would be created as soon as the city’s legislature approved the government budget application announced on Wednesday.

He added that police needed additional resources to tackle transnational money laundering because of rapid developments in cryptocurrency and payment services, noting that numerous other crimes also require financial investigations.

“Compared to other overseas law enforcement agencies, our resources in cracking money-laundering activities are not particularly abundant. Some countries are equipped with an official body to tackle the matter,” the insider said, adding the proposal did not indicate a worsening of Hong Kong money-laundering activities.

“Installing a CCTV camera in a shop does not mean there has been many robberies. It is a precaution. Likewise, we need to keep pace with international standards on fighting related crimes and follow up the recommendations by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF),” they said.

The new bureau will be headed by a chief superintendent, a post that will be created once the budget has passed.

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The police units responsible for money laundering, terrorist financing, and financial intelligence and investigation currently fall under the Narcotics Bureau.

The Post was told the number of related investigators is expected to double to about 120 after they are fully grouped into a new bureau. The number of Customs and Excise Department officers dedicated to financial investigation would also be boosted by 30 per cent, to about 90.

It was not immediately clear if the creation of the new bureau would lead to any changes at the existing police and customs joint task force that handles suspicious transaction reports.

Since 1991, Hong Kong has been a member of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental body that sets international standards on anti-money-laundering measures and curbs on terrorist financing.

The FATF’s latest assessment said while Hong Kong was delivering good results in fighting money laundering and terrorist financing, there were areas it could strengthen.

Police to ramp up manpower with 2,500 new posts in ‘biggest boost since 1997’

“It must enhance prosecution of money laundering involving crimes committed abroad and strengthen supervision of certain non-financial businesses,” the body’s September report stated.

“Hong Kong, China, is a major financial centre. While Hong Kong, China, has a low domestic crime rate, it faces a significant risk of attracting those who seek to launder the proceeds of crimes such as corruption and tax evasion.”

According to the city’s risk assessment report in 2018, the number of suspicious transaction reports almost tripled to 92,115 in 2017, compared to 32,907 in 2013. The number of money laundering investigations climbed by 8 per cent to 1,820 over the same period.

Meanwhile, the Post has learned that among the 2,500 new posts to be created on the force, more than 500 will be assigned to three newly created Police Tactical Unit (PTU) companies, with each company consisting of 170 officers.

Among the 2,500 new positions to be created on the Hong Kong Police Force are three new 170-man tactical units. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

A force insider said the new companies would be under the command of the operations wing of police headquarters in Wan Chai and tasked with dealing with emergencies, handling public order events and guarding against violent acts by radical protesters.

Currently, there are three PTU companies stationed at police headquarters, while another five are stationed in each of five police regions.

Another source said he believed the creation of three additional units marked the biggest manpower boost for the city’s PTU companies in over a decade.

The sources said hundreds of new positions would also strengthen the patrol subunits in each police district as well as the manpower in crime units.

Additional reporting by Clifford Lo

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