Holiday ordeal girls due home from Argentina

Two girls to leave Buenos Aires after being held against their will in possible stolen goods racket that saw third teen arrested in HK

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 February, 2013, 5:49am

Two teen girls are expected to arrive home soon in Hong Kong after a harrowing ordeal in Argentina, where they were apparently held against their will in a dispute over a vase and painting worth US$800,000, police say.

Police suspect the items are stolen goods and have arrested a third girl, 17, in Sheung Shui. She contacted Rainbow Chan and Stella Au, aged 17 and 18, through a social media network, and asked whether they would take the vase and painting to Buenos Aires in exchange for HK$30,000 each, a police source said. The deal covered their travelling expenses.

They agreed and arrived in the country with the woman's 19-year-old boyfriend, also from Hong Kong, early this month.

They were about to hand over the goods to unspecified local Chinese, who then told the girls the vase was damaged. The pair were told they had to pay US$100,000 in compensation.

They didn't have the money and were detained, with their passports taken away, the source said.

Officers from the New Territories North regional crime unit later located the Sheung Shui girl after searching the pair's computers in Hong Kong.

She was arrested on Friday on suspicion of handling stolen goods after she could not explain to police how she obtained the vase and the painting. She was released on bail but must report to police in mid-March.

An investigation showed her boyfriend is still in Argentina but his whereabouts are unknown.

Chan and Au were later freed with their passports returned. No other details have emerged about the circumstances of their release.

The two approached the Chinese embassy in Buenos Aires for help on Saturday. They were given accommodation and helped in the investigation.

A Hong Kong police spokesman said the pair, accompanied by an officer, might leave Buenos Aires today, at the earliest.

They are expected to face further questioning in Hong Kong with the New Territories North unit.

The case came to light after the girls sent a message via the WhatsApp smartphone programme to friends and relatives in Hong Kong on February 15 and 18, saying they were in trouble. The parents alerted police.

Three Hong Kong officers will stay on Argentina to assist in the investigation.