Police have closed down five triad-controlled financial consultancies, and arrested 12 directors and employees after they allegedly charged 'huge and unreasonable' fees from loan applicants, including undercover police.
Loan applicants were being charged various fees that could total more than HK$8,000 on a HK$10,000 loan, officers said. 'Those who borrowed a few thousand dollars might have to pay what they borrowed to cover the huge fees,' one officer said.
Those who refused to pay the fees and wanted to withdraw their applications faced threats, assault and unlawful detention, Superintendent Danny Ngan Chor-kwok of New Territories South regional crime unit said. Investigations showed the five companies preyed on jobless people and those who could not secure loans from banks and licensed finance companies, he said.
Police said applicants included housewives, taxi drivers, delivery workers and odd-job labourers.
Chief Inspector Albert Hui Kwai-sang of the New Territories South anti-triad unit said: 'It is possible that many applicants might have withdrawn their loan applications after paying part of the huge and unreasonable fees.'
Documents seized from the five companies in Tsuen Wan and Kwai Chung showed that more than 2,000 applicants fell for the ploy and each borrowed HK$5,000 to HK$30,000.
Police said the five companies controlled by two triad societies had been operating for at least six months. The five finance consultants referred loan applicants to several licensed money-lending companies in Mong Kok and Wan Chai. Applicants were also charged by the money lenders, with interest payments of nearly 60 per cent a year. Police are investigating whether the money lenders were controlled by the two triad societies.
The consultants advertised on street posters in Tsuen Wan, Kwai Chung and Tsing Yi, saying applicants could receive loans 'easily and fast' even if they had no proof of income and had a history of bad debts.
Police began to investigate the five companies two months ago. Seven officers posing as applicants went to borrow money. Officers said fees included handling and administration charges of about HK$2,000.
Hui said: 'As the finance consultants were used as guarantors in applying for loans from licensed money lenders, applicants were then charged two-thirds of the loan amount as a guarantor's fee. If applicants refused to pay and wanted to withdraw their loan applications, they were surrounded, threatened ... and even faced assault.'
Officers raided the five companies and arrested 12 people - 11 of them male - aged between 15 and 39 on Wednesday afternoon. These were two directors of two of the five consultants and 10 employees. Ten were suspected to be triad members and one was the office-bearer of a triad society, a police officer said.
The 12 were being held last night and no one had been charged.