Woman banked billions in money laundering case

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 March, 2013, 4:38am

She is a public housing tenant accused of making more than 17,000 bank transfers to launder HK$6.7 billion, through nine Hong Kong banks. Yet Lam Mei-ling, 61, earned only occasional payments of HK$4,500 from the arrangement, the Court of First Instance heard yesterday.

Lam told her story in a police interview that was played in court yesterday. She has pleaded not guilty to dealing with property known or believed to represent the proceeds of an indictable offence. Lam maintained that she had no idea where the money - about HK$155 million every month between 2002 and 2005 - originally came from.

Each transaction began with a phone call from a woman Lam called "Chun Ha", the court heard. Lam was told that money had been deposited into one of her bank accounts.

Lam would go and transfer the money from her account into a second account to which she had a number but not the owner's name. Between May 2002 and December 2005, she made more than 17,295 transfers, moving an average of HK$5.2 million every day, the court heard.

If found guilty Lam, who lives in a Wong Tai Sin public housing estate, faces a jail term of up to 14 years and a fine of HK$5 million.

She was first arrested in 2008 when police questioned her over two bank accounts, but she was released without charge, the court heard. Lam was arrested again in 2011, when police found nine suspicious bank accounts under her name. All nine were shut down by the banks in 2005. When asked in the interview, conducted on June 17, 2011, Lam said she did not know where the money came from.

"I didn't ask. I don't know. I can't remember," she said. "She gave me the money and I transferred it out. I do not know how to write her name. I did not receive any education … I can't remember. It was so long ago."

She gave me the money and I transferred it out. I do not know how to write her name

At first Lam said she did not receive any money from Chun Ha. But she later said Chun Ha once paid her HK$4,500 for a month's work. Lam said she did not know how many times she received such a payment.

Lam is accused of laundering amounts ranging from HK$2 billion through Chiyu Bank to HK$124 million through National Commercial Bank. The larger sums include HK$1.8 billion transferred through Hua Chiao Commercial Bank and HK$1.6 billion through Hang Seng Bank.

The other banks named by the prosecution are Dao Heng Bank, First Commercial Bank, Hua Nan Bank, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia.

The case comes less than two months after a young mainlander was jailed for transferring HK$13.1 billion through an account held with Chiyu Banking Corporation in just eight months, a record amount for a money-laundering case in the city.

Sentencing 22-year-old Luo Juncheng to 10-1/2 years in jail on January 24, Madam Justice Esther Toh Lye-ping said his crime was the most serious of its kind to have come before the courts. She added that there was an urgent need to review the maximum penalties for the offence.

Lam's trial continues before Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai. She is expected to testify in court in her own defence.