A public housing tenant who laundered more than HK$6.7 billion through nine Hong Kong banks over almost four years was jailed for 10 years yesterday.
The money-laundering case is the second-biggest since the conviction of mainlander Luo Juncheng in January for a HK$13 billion scam, which led to calls for the tighter regulation of banks.
Lam Mei-ling, 61, was found guilty in the Court of First Instance on Monday of laundering an average of HK$5 million a day between May 2002 and December 2005. She funnelled cash to various accounts in Hong Kong through more than 17,000 over-the-counter bank transfers, under the instruction of a mainland woman.
The banks shut down the accounts in 2005 without approaching the police, the court heard. There were no clues as to where the money had been sent.
Lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a senior counsel, said the incident showed that the banking regulator should tighten rules.
Despite the conviction, "we have to question whether the banks have done their duty to prevent money-laundering", Tong said.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority should step up its effort to check if banks had systems in place to report suspicious transactions, and should be given the power to impose stiff fines if banks failed to improve anti-money-laundering measures, he added.
"Only a painful penalty such as a heavy fine would make sure the banks improved their internal controls. We have seen heavy fines for banks related to money-laundering cases overseas, but we have not see any penalties for banks in Hong Kong. This needs to change," Tong said.
HSBC agreed to pay a record US$1.92 billion in fines in December to settle a money-laundering and terrorist-financing investigation by US authorities.
In passing sentence on Lam yesterday, Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai accepted that she had not been the mastermind and did not know the nature of the crimes which had generated the money.
"But this case involved huge sums of money. It took place over a long period of time and involved as many as nine bank accounts," the judge said.
"For a serious crime like this, an individual's circumstances such as her family background and education level would not constitute mitigating factors."
Lam laundered amounts ranging from HK$2 billion through Chiyu Bank to HK$124 million through National Commercial Bank.
The larger sums included HK$1.8 billion transferred through Hua Chiao Commercial Bank and HK$1.6 billion through Hang Seng Bank.
The other banks were Dao Heng Bank, First Commercial Bank, Hua Nan Bank, Standard Chartered and Bank of East Asia.
In January, 22-year-old Luo Juncheng was jailed for 10 and a half years for transferring a record HK$13.1 billion in just eight months through an account held with the Chiyu Banking Corporation.
Concluding the case, Madam Justice Esther Toh Lye-ping said there was an urgent need to review the maximum penalties for the offence, which were 14 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to HK$5 million.