22 held as police smash triad-run loanshark gang

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 October, 2002, 12:00am

Police have broken up a loansharking syndicate they say was run by members of three triad societies. It allegedly preyed on businessmen and charged annual interest rates of up to 430 per cent.

Organised Crime and Triad Bureau officers arrested 22 people - 15 men and seven women - including suspected core members of the syndicate, in raids that ended at 10am yesterday.

In all, $240,000 in local and foreign currency, luxury watches and jewellery, computers and computer records, account books, credit cards and five knives were seized as about 200 officers raided 31 locations during the operation, codenamed 'Coral Snake'.

Police said the gang was formed by members of three triad societies - Wo On Lok, 14K and Sun Yee On - and was also linked to loanshark syndicates in Macau.

They said they would apply to the courts to freeze assets including two apartments, seven luxury cars and money in bank accounts, all owned by members of the syndicate and linked to their loansharking activities.

Acting Chief Superintendent Lo Mung-hung, of the bureau, said the syndicate targeted businessmen from small and medium-sized firms, especially those in the manufacturing sector. 'It is possible that members from the syndicate might have links with people from the manufacturing industry,' he said.

Initial investigations revealed more than 200 debtors borrowed money from the syndicate and at least half of them were owners of small and medium enterprises.

'The loans involved ranged from tens of thousands of dollars to $1 million. The total amount of loans reached $8 million a year and we estimated that their annual income was about $34 million,' Mr Lo said.

He added the syndicate, which had been in operation for about two years, lent money to debtors at interest rates of up to 430 per cent a year. The highest legal rate is 60 per cent a year.

The Hong Kong Small and Medium Enterprises Association chairman, Simon Shi Kai-biu, said: 'Many businessmen have used their properties as collateral to get cash to run their businesses. However, the prices of their properties have dropped sharply in recent years and banks have demanded they pay the money back.'

Mr Lo said the syndicate held monthly meetings in a restaurant in Sha Tin, where it reported on business and shared out profits.

On Monday night, officers raided the restaurant as a meeting was in progress. Police arrested eight men and three women and seized more than $100,000 in cash. Officers then carried out 30 more raids in different parts of Hong Kong and arrested seven other men and four women between 6pm on Monday and 10am yesterday.