Investigations surge 41pc as police target financial operations of syndicates The number of investigations into money laundering and other illegal transactions increased 41 per cent in Hong Kong last year, as enforcement agencies intensified efforts to seize the proceeds of criminal syndicates. According to the Security Bureau, 972 suspicious transaction cases were investigated last year, compared with 687 in 2002. Officials have continued the heightened effort this year, investigating 272 cases in the first quarter. A government source said the increase did not reflect a rise in money laundering but had resulted from police launching financial investigations into the proceeds of syndicates believed to be dealing in drugs, vice, bookmaking and other criminal activities. 'It is hoped that financial investigations can be conducted alongside investigations into the criminal activities of syndicates, to allow the police to seize the illegal proceeds,' said a government source. 'Instead of just arresting the gang members, the proactive approach will leave syndicates with slimmer chances of reviving [operations after police intervention].' Assets worth $382 million have been confiscated since money-laundering laws were enacted in 1989. Courts have ordered a further $101 million to be confiscated, and $1.3 billion in assets frozen. The source said the surge in investigations was also brought about by better reporting by banks and other financial institutions, such as remittance agencies, securities and insurance companies, of suspicious transactions. The Joint Financial Action Taskforce received 11,678 reports last year, 7 per cent more than the 10,871 in 2002. There were 4,145 reports in the first quarter of this year. The number of reports in 2002 was 68 per cent more than the 6,484 reports in 2001, a significant increase which the Security Bureau attributed to the heightened vigilance following the September 11 attacks in 2001. A spokeswoman for the bureau said: 'This partly reflects the increase in awareness of the importance of reporting suspicious transactions.' She said the suspicious transactions reports filed to the Joint Financial Intelligence Unit, operated by police and customs, included a small number of terrorist financing activities. But it is understood that most involved accountholders with the same name as those on a list of terrorists released by the UN. None of the completed investigations have pointed to terrorist activities. The number of investigations last year represented about 8 per cent of all reports into suspicious transactions, the spokeswoman said. Investigations were usually initiated on evidence gathered by law enforcement agencies, rather than on the reports alone, she said.