The South China Morning Post has reported that seven Hong Kong bankers were arrested on Tuesday, January 19th as part of a police operation against an international money-laundering syndicate. The group of five men and two women has allegedly handled HK$6.3 billion (US$813 million) in criminal proceeds, which represents the biggest money laundering case in Hong Kong in almost a decade.
In fact, the largest money laundering case in the history of the city – involving HK$13.1 billion – dates back to 2012, when a 22-year-old man was arrested and later sentenced to ten and a half years in prison after laundering money through his bank accounts between August 2009 and April 2010.
In Hong Kong, the crime of conspiracy to launder money – which the bankers are currently accused of – carries a maximum penalty of 14 years of imprisonment and a HK$5 million fine.
The commercial crime bureau came to look into the current syndicate in 2017, after investigating an email scam which caused the London office of a Swiss company to transfer US$2 million into bank accounts in Hong Kong.
According to Senior Inspector Chu Kin-wah, the seven bankers might have used their extensive knowledge of banking operations and client due diligence procedures to assist the gang in opening the accounts used in the scheme. Money was transferred there from all over the world, including Italy, Vietnam and Germany (it appears that as much as HK$3.3 billion was laundered through one single account in the years 2018 -2019). More specifically, the syndicate had sent as many as 16 people to Hong Kong to open 14 business accounts at two banks using forged documents and fake Hong Kong identity cards.
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