Kidnap sparks clamour for bodyguards among rich and famous in Hong Kong
As fear factor takes hold amid high-profile kidnap probe, security experts warn that some guards offering services may not be qualified
Security jitters sparked by one of Hong Kong's highest-profile kidnap investigations have seen a rush for private security services by the city's rich and famous.
A former top anti-terrorism officer in the Hong Kong police who now operates in the private sector said there has been increased demand for bodyguards.
But he warned some ex-police officers could be trying to cash in on the fear factor by exaggerating their level of experience to land lucrative security contracts.
International corporations and wealthy families in the city are among those reassessing their security arrangements.
The moves come as the hunt for members of a gang accused of kidnapping heiress Queenie Rosita Law, granddaughter of late Bossini founder Law Ting-pong, continues following her release after her family paid a HK$28 million ransom.
Seven suspects have been arrested so far - six in Guangdong and one in Hong Kong, who appeared in court yesterday.
Former police superintendent Clement Lai Ka-chi, founder of the police counter-terrorism unit, said fear could lead to families and businesses being duped if proper background checks are not carried out.
"Since the kidnapping case, a lot of people are coming out claiming to be experienced with VIP protection training without the certification," said Li, who served for a decade with G4, the elite VIP protection unit that guards the chief executive and other dignitaries.
He warned that some former police officers were overstating their experience in uniform.
Lai, who left the force last year, explained: "I've never seen them in the unit before as protection officers. There will be people in our unit who will stand up and say, 'Don't lie to us'."
Bruce McLaren, director of security firm Signal 8, said weak background checks meant anyone could pass themselves off as a bodyguard in Hong Kong.
"There are people working in Hong Kong who have never done a day's bodyguard training in their lives, and unless you do an official background check, clients assume bodyguards are qualified," McLaren said.
Although the high-profile and aggressive nature of the latest kidnap may have sparked alarm, Hong Kong last year actually reported its lowest annual crime rate since 1973. The number of reported cases fell to 936 cases per 100,000 people, with crimes in all categories totalling 67,740.
The latest case has evoked memories of late billionaire property tycoon Teddy Wang Teh-huei. Wang had to pay out HK$11 million when first abducted, after which he failed to hire a bodyguard or install even a basic home security system.
In 1990 he was kidnapped again. This time the abductors demanded HK$467 million. Although HK$$260 million was paid, Wang was never seen again.
In 1996, Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, son of Li Ka-shing, was kidnapped, and Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties, suffered the same fate - both crimes masterminded by infamous Hong Kong thug "Big Spender" Cheung Tze-keung. Cheung made off with HK$1.38 billion and HK$600 million respectively in each case.
One former British Army Gurhka bodyguard who works for a billionaire property tycoon said the latest kidnapping and ransom case "has seen a surge" in the security industry. Speaking anonymously due to client confidentiality, he said: "In our group of ex-British Army Gurkhas, we are trying to recruit more [to meet demand]," he said.
Steve Vickers, security risk consultant and former head of the police criminal intelligence unit, said: "The recent publicity surrounding the high-profile abduction and ransom payment have caused concern among many wealthy families in Hong Kong."
Vickers, who runs his own security consultancy SVA, disclosed he was currently working with insurance companies on aspects of kidnap and ransom cover.
Vickers said his firm had recently been contacted by 10 international corporations, 10 families and individuals plus three chambers of commerce seeking advice on security.
Cost of a bodyguard in Hong Kong rises with increasing demand
As the demand for bodyguards is rising, so is the cost of hiring experienced and qualified security personnel in Hong Kong.
Serving police officers seeking more lucrative jobs in the private sector can start with up to HK$40,000 a month as bodyguards. A police constable's starting salary, in contrast, is about HK$20,000 to HK$32,000.
Ex-British Army Gurkha soldiers, highly sought after for their military discipline and reputation as fierce fighters, can earn as much as HK$30,000 a month as bodyguards. Employers are willing to pay up to HK$60,000 for individual security officers. At a managerial and commander level, experienced security officers can get HK$100,000 a month, plus housing and car allowances.
On the flip side, police officers who leave the force are giving up hefty government pensions and job security.
On the "rare" occasion that a workplace injury or death occurs on the job, bodyguards are covered by a comprehensive life insurance policy.
"So far, we've never encountered anything to need that," said a senior Gurkha bodyguard, who spoke to the Post on condition of anonymity.
While acknowledging the element of risk in his professional life, the Gurkha said his job protecting a property tycoon was as "safe" as it had ever been, despite the latest kidnapping incident.
"When we join a company, we always look for that [protection] in case something happens to us. We have to find out if there are any provisions for us," he added.
Bruce McLaren, director of security firm Signal 8, said: "It is amazing how much people are willing to pay for decent security."