In this June 30, 2021 photo, signage is seen displayed outside the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department headquarters building in Hong Kong. (ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP)
HONG KONG – Hong Kong authorities arrested nine people suspected of money laundering involving HK$6 billion ($767 million), the largest money laundering case on record in the Asian financial hub.
Three men and six women aged 39 to 68 were suspected of laundering money through several accounts at various banks in Hong Kong, the Customs and Excise Department said in a statement Wednesday. The department also arranged the freezing of HK$16 million in assets held by the suspects.
“Hong Kong Customs mounted an operation codenamed ‘Hornet’ on Jan 5 and successfully smashed a large-scale money laundering syndicate as well as a money laundering operation center,” the statement reads.
The syndicate members had opened a number of personal and company bank accounts in various local banks to deal with large amounts of money from unknown sources between 2020 and 2022, with the transactions reaching HK$6 billion
The syndicate members had opened a number of personal and company bank accounts in various local banks to deal with large amounts of money from unknown sources between 2020 and 2022, with the transactions reaching a total of HK$6 billion.
The investigation showed that the background and the financial status of the syndicate members were highly incommensurate with the large-value transactions, according to the statement.
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They also rented a residential unit at a large private housing estate, which was suspected to be the operation center for their money laundering activities.
Customs officers arrested the suspects, including the mastermind, on Jan 5 for "dealing with property known or reasonably believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence" under the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance.
They also raided 10 residential premises, eight companies and a licensed money changer. About HK$3.9 million in cash, banknote counters, a number of mobile phones and computers, company chops, cheque books, bank cards and bank documents were confiscated.
The nine suspects have been released on bail pending further investigation, and the likelihood of further arrests is not ruled out, according to the statement.
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The maximum penalty upon conviction for money laundering is a fine of HK$5 million and imprisonment for 14 years, it added.