An insurance agent who admitted swindling 15 clients out of sums of up to HK$3 million each in a "sophisticated" scam was jailed for three years yesterday.
Counsel for Lau Chung-ming, 46, told the District Court that the defendant had only turned to crime to cover his investment losses after falling victim to a scam himself.
Lau pleaded guilty to 13 counts of theft, one count of fraud and three of obtaining property by deception. The offences were committed over a period of seven years.
He admitted having set up a company called "AIGA Asset Trade" to collect insurance money from his clients, then giving them false confirmation letters in the name of multinational AIA, for which he used to be an agent, and its former parent company, AIG, to convince them their payment had been made.
He duped the 15 clients out of sums of between US$12,836 and HK$3 million between 2005 and February 2012.
Passing sentence, Deputy Judge Edwin Choy Wai-bond said: "There is no doubt that this was a sophisticated scheme. The defendant has disgracefully breached the trust of his clients."
Prosecutor Chan Sze-yan said Lau had worked as an insurance agent for insurance giant American International Assurance Company (Bermuda) Limited. Some of the victims were longstanding clients who had been working with the defendant since as far back as 2002.
If the clients paid Lau in cash, he simply pocketed the money, Chan told the court. If the clients tried to pay by other methods, the prosecutor said, Lau's approach became more sophisticated.
In some cases, clients would give Lau a cheque without writing the name of the payee, whereupon Lau would enter the name of his shell company and take the money.
On one occasion, he handed a pen with erasable ink to a client to write the cheque, then changed the name of the payee from "AIA" to his shell company after the client left.
Lau also gave false letters of confirmation to his clients to show them that payments had been made to the insurers, the court heard.
The prosecutor told the court that Lau had used various excuses to cover up his scam with clients and even issued post-dated cheques in an attempt to lure clients.
Barrister Michael Leung, representing Lau, said Lau had himself fallen victim to a scam, the losses from which had prompted him to begin his criminal behaviour. He had invested HK$3 million into a health products business on the mainland in 2005, but the business later turned out to be a fake.
After borrowing HK$1 million to fund the investment, the lawyer said, Lau started to swindle his clients to raise money to repay his debt. He invested the clients' money and covered his losses, but in the end he had lost everything. He came forward to police voluntarily in February 2012.
The lawyer said Lau had repaid about HK$156,000 to some of his clients and had been declared bankrupt last year.