Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong

Hong Kong retiree who targeted domestic helpers arrested in connection with HK$3 million operation that charged 125 per cent interest

Police raid suspect’s flat and recover 859 passports which Indonesian and Filipino workers were forced to surrender as surety against their loans

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 3:57pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 July, 2018, 9:24pm

Police have arrested a 64-year-old in connection with a HK$3 million (US$382,000) moneylending operation that targeted Hong Kong’s domestic helpers and charged them 125 per cent interest, more than double the city’s legal limit.

The retiree, who police think worked alone, is believed to have lent money to at least 850 Indonesian and Filipino helpers, who were forced to surrender their passports as surety against the loans.

Working on a tip-off, officers arrested the man, who was found in possession of three passports, on Wednesday afternoon at the junction of Tak Wah Street and Ham Tin Street in Tsuen Wan.

In a subsequent raid at the man’s public housing flat in the nearby Shek Wai Fok Estate, police found another 856 passports and records documenting the illegal transactions.

A police source said domestic helpers could borrow a maximum of HK$4,000 each, and were charged an annual interest rate of up to 125 per cent. The city’s legal limit is 60 per cent.

The source said 859 Indonesian or Philippines passports were seized in the operation.

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“We believe the passports belong to domestic helpers who were required to surrender their passports as surety for their loans,” the source said.

Based on the number of passports, police believe more than 850 helpers borrowed money, and the total loan amount was more than HK$3 million.

The source said police believe the illegal business had been operating for at least a year, but they are still investigating how he drummed up the business.

Eni Lestari, chairwoman of the International Migrants Alliance which advocates for the rights of domestic helpers, said it was common for helpers in the city to borrow money from finance companies or loan sharks.

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Lestari said helpers borrowed money from loan sharks because the application procedure was simple, fast, and they could get money quickly.

The advocate said domestic helpers’ wages in Hong Kong are “very low” and did not keep up inflation, so helpers struggled to save much money despite having worked in the city for many years.

She called for domestic helpers to receive a minimum monthly wage of HK$5,500. Last year, the minimum wage went up by just 2.3 per cent, from HK$4,310 to HK$4,410.

On Thursday, the suspect, who was being detained at Tsuen Wan police station, had not been charged.

The police source said the man is likely to be released on bail as officers needed more time to gather evidence.

“Officers have to examine the seized documents and find the debtors,” the source said.

In Hong Kong, lending money above the annual interest rate of 60 per cent carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a HK$5 million fine.