Bid to curb money laundering on properties

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 February, 2008, 12:00am

The Estate Agents Authority will issue a guideline this year to property agents to help stamp out money laundering, its chairman says.

The move came after an international organisation expressed concern in talks with the government two months ago about terrorists or drug dealers laundering money by buying luxury properties in Hong Kong.

An authority spokeswoman said the content of the guideline had not been finalised, adding that putting money into the property market was just one of the methods money launderers used.

'They will buy properties as they involve a large amount of money in Hong Kong,' the chairman, Steven Poon Kwok-lim, told a television news programme. 'The money will become 'clean' after reselling the properties.'

Agents should report suspicious transactions as they would be the first to be contacted when properties were bought or sold, he said.

A guideline would be issued this year, he said.

The authority said it had made 422 visits to agencies last year to ask them to keep a record of customers' background information, transaction values and property details for at least five years.

But Mr Poon admitted that it was difficult to require the property agents to conduct more in-depth investigations.

The spokeswoman said the authority had no figures about the related activities as most suspicious transactions would be directly reported to the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering.

Last year, there were 145,691 registered property transactions worth HK$525 billion, the Land Registry said.

Residential properties accounted for 123,996 deals, while the remaining were commercial premises.

The money laundering taskforce suggested in 2003 that background checks be done and transaction records kept, but agents said this would be impractical.