Hong Kong police are investigating reports that a self-proclaimed radical anti-government group is extorting local businesses to fund the protest movement with cryptocurrency.
Acting Chief Superintendent Kelvin Kong Wing-cheung on Friday said police had received four reports from business operators this month saying they had received intimidating messages.
“A group which claimed to be a democratic alliance sent messages by fax and email to businesses, threatening to wreck their shops unless the victims funded violent protests by bitcoin,” Kong said.
Kong did not name the alliance, just saying it was a group that claimed to protect Hong Kong’s democracy and freedom.
The police accord high priority to such cases and are carrying out an active investigation
Acting Chief Superintendent Kelvin Kong
An email written in Chinese to one of the businesses, and published in local media, had the word “HKwarriors” in English in the sender’s address.
Kong said recent videos of Hong Kong protesters inflicting extensive damages on shops were attached to the threatening emails.
“The police accord high priority to such cases and are carrying out an active investigation,” Kong said, “We appeal to all members of the public and shops to report to the police if they have received any blackmailing or intimating messages.”
The police said reports should be made through the hotline 5975 3133 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to a police source the businesses that had reported the extortion included Hong Kong restaurant chain Fulum Group Holdings, snack and food chain Best Mart 360, and health product retailer Royal Medic.
The extortion emails sent to Fulum and Royal Medic came from a person surnamed Chan on behalf of the alliance in late September.
The email to Fulum asked for no less than 0.1 bitcoin (worth some HK$8,000 at the time, or US$1,000), and the message to Royal Medic demanded 0.5 bitcoin (then worth about HK$40,000).
“If we have not received the money in 10 days, the alliance will punish your company and related operators severely,” the messages said. Links to videos of protesters destroying shops in Tsuen Wan and beating a blue-shirted man in Wan Chai were attached as warnings.
The emails said the businesses were targeted because they were “pro-communist” and the extortion money was an atonement for this “sin”.
Multiple branches of Best Mart 360 have been trashed by protesters because of alleged ties to the “Fujian gang”. The company has denied any links to the gang.
The Post discovered that the bitcoin account used by the group to receive payments from businesses had no registered transactions or balance by Friday night.
Separately, a spokesperson from the Hong Kong Monetary Authority on Friday denied online rumours and said banks had not lowered the daily withdrawal limit of automated teller machines. He said the daily limit still ranges from HK$10,000 to $80,000, depending on the banks.
The spokesperson said the hardware design of ATMs imposed a limit of 40 banknotes for each withdrawal, meaning if only smaller denomination notes are left, the amount of withdrawal will be less each time.
But the spokesman added: “Clients can withdraw money again if needed.”
On Tuesday, five banks, including two of mainland China’s largest state-owned lenders, shut 13 branches and hundreds of ATMs in the city after a long weekend of violence and vandalism around the city.
Protesters had previously called on Hongkongers to empty ATMs to disrupt the banking system – but major banks responded with saying they had enough banknotes to handle the crisis.
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hongkongers form 2km human chain to protest against alleged police brutality as city braces for 19th straight weekend of demonstrations
- Hong Kong protests: police have right to remove masks from reporters and patients at any time under new law, top brass tell frontline officers
- At least 77 arrested over anti-mask law, as Hong Kong police say weekend of protest unrest marked by ‘sharp escalation in vandalism and property destruction’