Hong Kong's free market means we are open to criminals taking advantage of our liberal regime. While the government thinks it has put in place tight controls against money laundering and other illegal activities, prosecutions and convictions do happen from time to time. The recent conviction of the biggest laundering case in a local court underlines the need for better efforts to uphold the city's fine reputation as an international financial centre rather than a haven to get rid of dirty money.
It is shocking that a young mainlander from Guangdong managed to move in and out a record HK$13.1 billion with a local bank account over a period of eight months since 2009. At a rate of HK$50 million a day, he made 4,800 deposits and 3,500 transfers across the border through Chiyu Bank, most of which were done on the internet. The disclosure has raised questions over the vigilance of our banking system.
When handing down a 10-and-a-half-year jail term, the district court judge described the case as the most serious of its kind. She rightly called for a review of the 14-year maximum penalty. According to police, the number of suspicious transactions reported to the Joint Financial Intelligence Unit in 2011 was 20,287. There were 17,795 reports up to September last year. It shows the city is an attractive place for laundering.
The government regards our city as the region's money-laundering policeman. Content with its regulations and vigilance, it is likely to brush aside suggestions that our regime is prone to abuse. But as China is expected to get tough on corruption and the declaration of assets for officials under the new leadership, there is a need for Hong Kong to guard against attempts to move ill-gotten money across the border.
The last thing we want is to be billed as a haven for international money laundering. We cannot afford to have our reputation tarnished by illegal activities. The government should stay alert to the trend and adopt an open mind on tougher penalties to ward off law breakers.