Scores arrested over scam on Hong Kong subsidy scheme intended for coronavirus-battered tourism industry

Cannix Yau
·3-min read

Students, housewives, chefs and travel agency directors were among 62 people arrested on suspicion of plotting to scam a government subsidy scheme, intended for Hong Kong’s pandemic-ravaged tourism industry, out of HK$2.8 million.

Police said 32 women and 30 men, aged 19 to 62, were accused of submitting bogus applications for seven travel agencies containing falsified information and documents in an attempt to claim a total of HK2.84 million (US$366,000) under the Covid-19 relief scheme. The subsidies, however, were not approved after the Travel Agents Registry, which handled the applications, became suspicious of the submissions.

Police officials Ho Siu-tung (centre) and Tang Yee-nar (right) brief the press on the suspected scam on Friday. Photo: Xiaomei Chen
Police officials Ho Siu-tung (centre) and Tang Yee-nar (right) brief the press on the suspected scam on Friday. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

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Arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud, all of the suspects were granted police bail pending further investigation. In addition to the travel agency directors, the suspects included construction workers, drivers and retirees, among others.

The Travel Agents and Practitioners Support Scheme, part of the government’s HK$300 billion pandemic relief fund, provided one-off subsidies for operators ranging from HK$20,000 to HK$200,000, depending on their number of employees. Each worker would also be given a monthly subsidy of HK$5,000 for six months.

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Chief Inspector Ho Siu-tung, of the Wan Chai district crime unit, said police began investigating after the suspected fraud was referred to them in September by the Travel Agents Registry. From April to June, the registry received about 34,000 applications from the tourism industry involving claims for some HK$150 million.

Ho said the applicants needed to submit documents showing the number of staff they employed, including wage receipts and their Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) contributions.

“We found that the suspected seven travel agents originally employed only two to five staff, but they claimed to have 11 to 20 employees in their applications with forged wage receipts, employment contracts and MPF documents,” he said.

“We believe that they allegedly inflated the number of workers to receive more subsidies under the scheme.”

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Senior Inspector Tang Yee-nar, of the Wan Chai district intelligence unit, said she believed the masterminds were the directors of the seven travel agents, who persuaded their families and friends to give them their personal details so they could list them as employees in applications.

“Most of the arrested are not the employees of the travel agents. They are the families, relatives or friends of the agencies’ directors, and they gave their personal information for the directors to claim the subsidies,” she said.

In September, police arrested nine Hongkongers, aged 24 to 63, on suspicion of submitting bogus applications with falsified information and documents to claim HK$1.26 million from another relief fund reserved for retailers, party rooms, as well as beauty and massage parlours.

This article Scores arrested over scam on Hong Kong subsidy scheme intended for coronavirus-battered tourism industry first appeared on South China Morning Post

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