Widow admits to cheating Hong Kong government out of HK$332,000

Woman amassed more than HK$1 million while claiming social security assistance

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 August, 2017, 9:33am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 August, 2017, 9:32am

A millionaire admitted on Friday to cheating the Hong Kong government out of more than HK$332,000 in social subsidies over seven years because she was greedy and worried about inflation.

The District Court heard Esther Wong Tip-sum, 64, a widowed mother-of-four, had HK$630,000 in undisclosed bank accounts when she applied for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance in 2006 as a single parent with a son and declared HK$121,374 in total family assets.

She had more than HK$1 million by March 2013.

But her true financial status only came to light in February 2014 when she came clean with the Social Welfare Department during a periodic account review which revealed she had failed to declare 10 of her 12 bank accounts and seven insurance policies.

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The overpaid HK$332,232 had since been returned to the department.

Wong later admitted to police that she concealed her total assets out of greediness, and pleaded guilty on Thursday to a count of fraud.

Defence lawyer Yuen Kam-hung said Wong was “in poverty and financial burden” since her ex-husband and second husband both died in 1999 and she had to raise four children on her own in her limited earning capacity, due to her primary education.

So when her late husband’s friend repaid the family a HK$600,000 debt in 2005, she believed “out of ignorance” that the money could be reserved for future use when she can no longer work.

“She was worried about the inflation and the actual expenses of the family,” Yuen said.

Adding to the list of mitigating factors was her poor health, as he quoted a medical report citing Wong had Hepatitis B and dysthymia, a form of depression.

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“She became more worried about the financial situation so she committed the offence,” the lawyer added.

But that submission drew backlash from district judge Eddie Yip Chor-man, who observed the defence had failed to provide the necessary expert medical evidence that could explain why dysthymia would cause the offence.

“This is too lazy on your part,” the judge said. “It’s pitiable because your client may have some very good points in mitigation. The problem is you didn’t explore them.”

Sentencing is now adjourned for October 11, pending new medical reports.