Many a jail term earned through lure of easy cash from laundering

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 22 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 22 February, 2011, 12:00am

Money launderers can earn commissions of up to 2 per cent on the cash they wash through the banking system for criminal organisations.

But some, acting out of love and naivete, may not get any financial benefit for opening bank accounts to disguise the origin of cash that comes from drug trafficking, smuggling, taking bets, selling illegal cigarettes or other unlawful activities.

Last August, So Ching-chung, 44, was jailed for 51/2 years for his part in a laundering scheme involving more than HK$110 million from the sale of illicit cigarettes between 2005 and 2008 to vendors in Hong Kong engineered by a mainland-based ring.

The District Court heard that So used eight bank accounts - held by himself, his wife and his sister - to launder proceeds from the sales of the contraband and counterfeit cigarettes. He visited Shenzhen every day to report sales figures to a man and a woman.

So also helped the two collect money owed by buyers, the court heard. He earned a 2 per cent commission on the money he transferred to mainland bank accounts.

His wife, Cheung Yan-yin, 44, was jailed for one year and eight months for laundering HK$2.8 million. His sister So Pak-wan, 45, was jailed for three years and four months for laundering HK$48 million over 31/2 years. They were among 15 people convicted as the result of a customs crackdown.

In another case, a Taiwanese man and his girlfriend were jailed in April 2009 for five years and 16 months, respectively. They had been hired to launder HK$20 million through 19 accounts in a global lottery scam.

The court heard that Lin Meng-chang, 56, owner of a decoration company, was to receive 1 per cent of the funds he laundered. Lin, who played the major role, preyed upon the feelings of 22-year-old Mi Xiaoyan for him. The court heard that Mi got no financial benefit for what she did.

Last month, Yam Chim-kwan, 49, was convicted in the District Council and jailed for four years for helping her mainland drug-syndicate boyfriend to launder more than HK$126 million.

The boyfriend, Thao Phoumy Chan, 47, was sentenced to death by a Guangzhou court in August for trafficking in more than 400 kilograms of ketamine, an anaesthetic popular as a club drug. Thao was the head of an international drug smuggling syndicate.

Yam, a co-defendant in the mainland court's proceedings, was acquitted of smuggling and drug trafficking.

On March 31, 2005, while Yam was being detained on the mainland for investigation, Hong Kong police broke into her home with a warrant and found HK$11 million in a safe and two keys belonging to Thao. Police used the keys to open another safe, which contained HK$17 million.