Two Hong Kong university students among 128 arrested in crackdown on marriage scam syndicate

One of three ringleaders is jailed for racket in which young people were offered cash to marry mainland Chinese residents keen to live or work in city

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 10:00pm
UPDATED : Friday, 10 February, 2017, 11:58pm

Two Hong Kong university students were among scores of people arrested in a crackdown on a bogus marriage syndicate that helped mainland Chinese gain residency or take up employment in the city.

The Immigration Department described the enforcement action as one of the city’s biggest in recent years and said three core members of the racket were among the 128 people caught.

One of them – a 58-year-old chef originally from Hainan province – was sentenced to 21 months in jail in the District Court on Friday for conspiracy to defraud.

The syndicate had operated for more than two years and made about HK$10 million by arranging 122 fake marriages between Hongkongers and mainlanders.

Stephen Lau Wing-kei, chief immigration officer from the special investigation unit, said the three masterminds came to Hong Kong legally from Hainan, Guangdong and Fujian province a decade ago.

Young Hongkongers – 80 per cent were aged 20 to 25 – were lured into marrying on the mainland via social media and messenger apps with promises of HK$100,000. But they received only HK$5,000 to HK$20,000.

59 held over sham marriage syndicate that gave mainlanders Hong Kong residency

“The students want to earn quick money and therefore will readily engage in illegal activities,” Lau said. ‘They also did not have any marriage records and had become the target of the syndicate.”

Lau warned anyone tempted to take up such offers that the fake marriage record would stay with them and it was not as easy to divorce as many thought, as their mainland “partners” would flee after the registration.

After an investigation lasting several months, the authority mounted a citywide operation codenamed “Flashspear 2016” last March. The crackdown led to the arrest of 55 men and 73 women aged 22 to 68. Some 87 were Hongkongers and 41 were from mainland China.

Most of the people looking for a spouse were from the three provinces where the core members had strong networks.

Lau said mainlanders paid up to 150,000 yuan (HK$170,000) to sign up for the fake marriage, hoping to gain Hong Kong residency or travel endorsements that would allow them to come and go in the name of family reunions and enable them to take up illegal work.

“They could stay in Hong for a longer time [compared with a travel permit]. This is why they favour this means,” Lau said.

The department has informed the mainland authorities about the identities of syndicate customers who are still at large there.

The arrests were for offences including conspiracy to defraud and aiding and making false representations to immigration officers. The latter offence warrants up to 14 years in prison and a fine of HK$150,000.

In 2016, 98 people were convicted of offences relating to bogus marriages and were sentenced to jail terms of up to 18 months. There were 113 convictions in 2015.