My Take

Big fish always slip through legal net

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 March, 2013, 2:55am

An elderly woman and a young kid have been put behind bars for 10 years for laundering billions of dollars in two separate cases this year. Bravo! Our public prosecutors must be proud. A job well done. I have no doubt the two were guilty, but no one would seriously think they were anything other than small cogs in vast criminal schemes. In any case, it was suspected, but never shown, that all that money was dirty.

Sure, it's a lot of money, but both criminals received a pittance for their services. Under the Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance, it's enough to prove beyond resonable doubt that the suspect dealt in property while "knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe" it was the proceeds of an indictable offence. Nothing more. Easy job.

If I were a prosecutor, I would sleep much better at night if I were going after the real masterminds - the billionaires and powerful people on the mainland or at least the middlemen - by appealing to mainland authorities for help in furthering probes into vast laundering conspiracies. But our prosecutors and law enforcement investigators appear to be satisfied with just catching the minnows.

That's certainly the impression director of public prosecutions Kevin Zervos SC gave in a letter to the Post this week. He wrote: "It is important to bear in mind that anti-money-laundering provisions act as a disincentive to commit crime by disgorging the illicit profits from the criminals and their associates."

He also said that as an international financial centre, Hong Kong is especially vulnerable to the laundering of dirty money from drug trafficking, prostitution and fraud. I can't argue with that.

But this is what gets me. Are we to think the people behind those two vast laundering schemes - assuming they exist - will be deterred? I think not. Most likely, they are laughing at those poor sods now sitting behind bars, while looking for other fools to further their dirty deeds.

We see the same pattern with our courts and prosecutors in drug smuggling cases. Heavy sentences are regularly imposed on drug mules while the real culprits get away. I have no problem with police and prosecutors sending foolish criminals to jail, as long as they make greater effort to go after the real masterminds. But do they?