Housewives were latest victims of NT extortion

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 May, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 May, 2000, 12:00am

A group of housewives threatened while visiting a New Territories village yesterday were the latest victims of extortion operations in place for decades.

In many cases, village 'hooligans' have extorted car parking fees and damaged vehicles when owners refused to pay. Sources said yesterday motorists were routinely charged between $200 and $500 a month to park their cars; with refusal bringing overnight revenge.

'On the first day, they might put rubbish on the car or snails under the tyres, but if it carries on, people end up breaking windows and slashing tyres,' one Sai Kung village resident said. 'I've seen windscreens smashed, doors kicked in and paint stripper poured over cars.' One couple who moved into a village and refused to pay for parking soon moved out because they woke up one morning to find their car had been rolled on to its roof, he said.

A former resident of Sha Kok Mei village said: 'You pay $400 a month there and, if you don't pay, you can get into big trouble. If you park there and don't pay, they'll sort out your car real quick and you'll probably end up with your tyres being slashed.' A police source said bad elements in New Territories villages had been extorting money for decades. Few people complained because by paying the fee, they knew 'the hooligans look after their cars for them' and prevented damage or theft by outsiders. The issue was complicated by the fact that while sometimes the hooligans charged for parking on government land, often the land was their own or belonged to the village.

In yesterday's incident, 16 middle-aged members of the Helena May club were detained for an hour by village 'thugs' at Kat Hing Wai, Pat Heung, when they stopped to take photographs of an old building.

The Hong Kong Tourist Association said the incident, which was more related to photograph taking, payment for which is expected in many walled towns and villages, was a 'very rare occurrence'. The association has recently been promoting local heritage to visitors from abroad.

'For the most part, people are sensitive when they're travelling in an area that's obviously someone's homes, and if they're asked not to take pictures they respect that,' spokeswoman Donna Mongan said. 'I think this is very rare and most villagers welcome people visiting. I don't think it has any effect on our promotion of heritage in Hong Kong.'