Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Two arrested as Hong Kong probe widens into allegations that major fraud rackets targeted Filipino domestic workers

Post learns co-owner of defunct employment agency and ex-marketing director of travel firm out on bail but required to report back to police next month

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 6:32pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 10:54pm

Two Hong Kong-based business figures who worked closely with Filipino domestic workers in the city have been released on bail following their arrest in connection with two of the biggest alleged fraud rackets to hit the migrant community in recent years.

Police investigating hundreds of claims that people were duped into handing over cash to an agency in Hong Kong for non-existent jobs overseas confirmed on Tuesday they had arrested a 65-year-old foreign woman on suspicion of fraud and money laundering last week and that she had been released on bail.

Her arrest last Thursday came 24 hours after “a 49-year-old foreign man” was arrested for questioning over an alleged “conspiracy to defraud” connected to a now-defunct travel agency firm that failed to honour the Christmas flight bookings of hundreds of Filipino domestic workers in December last year, throwing their festive travel plans into chaos. He too has been released on bail.

The police have not formally named either of the two suspects.

However, sources have told the Post the woman is Philippine national and long-time Hong Kong resident Ester Ylagan, co-owner of the defunct Emry’s Service Staff Employment Agency, who allegedly duped up to 500 job applicants into applying for bogus jobs in Britain and Canada.

The man is Arnold Grospe, a former marketing director with Peya Travel, the company allegedly involved in the Christmas flight bookings fiasco.

Neither suspect has been charged and both are required to report back to police early next month.

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The most recent arrests came after Peya Travel owner Rhea Donna Boyce and her husband and Peya co-owner Peter Boyce were arrested and released on bail without formal charges being laid in December last year.

Both cases are being investigated by the Hong Kong Island regional crime unit, but police did not answer questions seeking clarification over whether the two cases were separate or part of a single probe.

Ylagan, who denies any wrongdoing and previously claimed she too was “duped”, was arrested in Western District on suspicion of “conspiracy to defraud” and “dealing with property known or believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence” – otherwise known as money laundering.

Grospe, who was also questioned and released in December last year, was arrested in Central on suspicion of “conspiracy to defraud”. Unconfirmed reports in the Philippine press said he had recently spent time in Macau.

According to a report in the newspaper The Sun, the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong has been notified of the arrests.

We are hopeful that the wheels of justice will finally start moving
Philippine consulate in Hong Kong

“Although we have yet to hear of the details of the arrests and the effects on the cases, initially we are glad and hopeful that the wheels of justice will finally start moving,” a consulate spokesman said. “The consulate will release the necessary advisories once we receive the [police] report.”

In March, the Post reported that scores of domestic workers filed civil claims in connection with the alleged bogus jobs racket, seeking compensation, with a case at the District Court involving more than 100 domestic workers expected to begin in May. But some documents indicate the number of victims might total about 700.

According to documents including police statements and financial records seen by the Post, millions of dollars were transferred to individuals whose addresses were in Burkina Faso, Malaysia, Nigeria and Turkey. Many of the transfers were made in small batches and from multiple locations in Hong Kong, sometimes within the same day. Transfers were sent using firms including MoneyGram, Western Union, HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank, and Reilsons.