Hong Kong police

Police must not be in denial about threats to Hong Kong

The blocking of a report alerting banks to money laundering linked to human trafficking is regrettable because the city has a lot to lose and the sharing of intelligence is essential

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 8:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 October, 2018, 9:20pm

It is not entirely clear why distribution of a comprehensive report alerting Hong Kong banks to money laundering linked to human trafficking was blocked. The 24-page document was designed to help financial institutions spot suspicious transactions linked to the illicit trade in people. Sources told the Post it was blocked by top police officers who were concerned it could lead to the city being labelled a human-trafficking hub, a claim repeatedly made by activists and consistently denied by officials. A police spokesman said the report was not published because of “different views received” after it was distributed for comment to members of the unit that prepared it.

Either way, it seems a regrettable outcome. Hong Kong is in the top echelon of financial centres and competition among them for lucrative prestige listings is keen. The city may be on track to top the global initial public offerings market this year but, as past experience has shown, it can easily lose its crown. It cannot afford to be linked to money laundering. A squeaky clean reputation is fundamental to its future as a financial centre. The gathering and sharing of intelligence is essential in order to be aware of potential threats.

The report, “Combating Human Trafficking in Hong Kong and the Asia-Pacific Region”, was prepared by the fraud and money-laundering intelligence task force, a police-led joint effort involving the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, leading banks and financial institutions. It was cleared for distribution by both the Security Bureau and the Monetary Authority.

Police block human trafficking warning to Hong Kong banks

Hong Kong belongs to the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force, a global watchdog over anti-money-laundering standards, for which trafficking and commercial exploitation of people is a core concern. It claims human trafficking is worth US$150 billion a year globally. Activists say Asia-Pacific has the second highest prevalence of modern slavery with 6.1 per 1,000 people affected.

It is understandable if law enforcement authorities do not want the city singled out as a trafficking hub. But it is an Asian crossroads, a free port and an entrepot between East and West, obvious attractions to traffickers and launderers. We trust that in defending the city’s image, they are not in denial of the threat to it.