Hong Kong courts

Phone scammers cheat Belgium’s foreign affairs office out of 1.2 million euros – with part of the cash landing in Hong Kong account, writ says

Of the sum involved, 169,705 euros was transferred to an HSBC bank account of company in Sheung Wan, according to High Court document

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 8:50pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 10:52pm

The Belgian foreign affairs office has become yet another victim of phone scammers linked to the city, according to a Hong Kong court document.

The fraud took place last year, according to a High Court writ made available on Tuesday. An employee of the Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Belgium was duped into thinking a contractor that had been carrying out construction work for the office had called her.

Bernadette Keyeux, the employee, then deposited 1.18 million euros (US$1.36 million) into what she thought was a new bank account for Willemen General Contractor – until the office later found out it was part of a fraud.

Of the sum involved, 169,705 euros was transferred to an HSBC bank account belonging to a Hong Kong-registered company called Grand Develop Limited in Sheung Wan.

The office is seeking repayment of the sum with interest, and is urging the Hong Kong courts to allow it to look into the HSBC account in question.

The latest fraud allegation came less than a week after an elderly American woman also took to the city’s courts to retrieve more than HK$1.5 million (US$192,300) she said she had been tricked into paying. The money also ended up in a Hong Kong registered account, according to her lawyers.

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There have been a number of phone scamming incidents involving Hong Kong in recent years.

Call victims are often told they or a family member are in trouble with the law, so they need to pay a settlement. Some are sweet-talked by scammers pretending to have fallen in love with them.

Although the number of such scams is falling, there were still 165 victims between January and June, down 62 per cent on the same period last year, with HK$10.55 million being swindled.

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In the latest case, the employee received the first allegedly fraudulent call sometime in mid-July last year. The caller identified himself as an Andre Stern, claiming to be the chief financial officer of Willemen General Contractor.

He told the staffer his company had opened a new bank account with ING Bank. The staffer was misled into remitting 1.18 euros into the bogus bank account on July 19, the court writ filed by the office’s legal firm YM Lawyers said.

The plaintiff thereby suffered a loss of 1,180,687.50 euros
court document

The office came to discover the alleged fraud in late July. “The plaintiff thereby suffered a loss of 1,180,687.50 euros by the fraud and deceit of the alleged chief financial officer of [Willemen],” the court document said.

The office initiated legal action in Brussels against the alleged fraudsters the following month.

As 169,705.50 euros had found its way to Hong Kong, the office turned to local police and made a report through its lawyers in September.

In July this year, the solicitors acting for the office also wrote to Grand Develop to tell the firm it would have to pay back the sum that landed in its bank account.

“It was unconscionable for the defendant to retain the amount claimed,” the court document said.

The Post’s attempt to contact the company, located in Cosco Tower, was unsuccessful.

According to the Companies Registry, it is solely owned by a Robert Erjavec, whose registered address is in Slovenia.