Hong Kong courts

‘Meticulous’ Hong Kong thief jailed for stealing cheques to fund gambling habit

Man stole letters containing cheques, which he then altered and deposited the money into his own bank accounts

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 6:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 6:31am

A Hong Kong man who stole HK$1 million worth of cheques from his employer and 789 letters from unattended mailbags to repay debts and fund his gambling was jailed for 42 months by a court on Wednesday.

Wong Lin-tak, 29, was described by district judge Douglas Yau Tak-hong as a professional thief with a relentless desire to “keep on stealing” as he had twice returned to his workplace to steal cheques and scoured various industrial buildings for valuable letters from January to the time of his arrest in March last year.

The District Court heard Wong targeted such premises in Tsuen Wan and Kwai Chung, knowing that companies would mail cheques by ordinary post and that the postmen might be too busy to attend to them.

He opened the letters as soon as he got on the bus and selected cheques worth more than HK$3,000, throwing the remaining letters into rubbish bins.

The stolen cheques were then altered with the use of adhesive tape to remove the name at the payee column, with which he replaced with his own name in writing.

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His techniques were so skilled that all but one of the 21 cheques that he stole were cleared by various banks such as HSBC, Bank of China, and DBS Bank. The last one was bounced by Chiyu Bank only because the amendment to the HK$337,171 cheque was not accompanied by an additional signature.

But his movements were captured on CCTV, and the certified copies of the cheques obtained by unsuccessful senders revealed the payee column had been changed to “Wong Lin Tak”, with the sums deposited into his accounts.

The former salesman pleaded guilty on Wednesday to 23 counts of theft, one of attempted theft and another of burglary. He had seven previous convictions for theft and fraud, for which he was jailed for eight months in 2012.

Prosecutors revealed that Lo had spent all the money deposited into his two old bank accounts, while the full balance of HK$9,760 was seized from a third account so new that he had yet to receive the bank card. “He used the cash to repay his debts and to gamble in Macau,” public prosecutor Angel Yuen said. “He had lost all the money.”

Defence lawyer Wilson Chiu Wai-shing added in mitigation: “He was heavily indebted to various financial institutions due to his gambling habit.”

Wong was earning a monthly salary of HK$20,000 as a salesman at Matrix Promotion, where he was responsible for handling client accounts and cheques, when he stole the first cheque, valued at HK$45,255.

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The judge said an immediate custodial sentence was the only available sentencing option given the seriousness of the circumstances, with all of the thefts being planned and well-executed.

“I would not be amiss to say the defendant was a professional thief,” he continued. “He had meticulously planned the thefts. He obviously did a very good job in altering the cheques since all but one were successfully deposited into his accounts.

“The worst part is he threw away the unwanted letters in the bin,” Yau said. “In this digital age the so-called snail-mail is rare. For those who had taken the time to write, the defendant’s act is offensive.”

The judge concluded that a deterrent sentence was required for the theft of mailbags from officers who were unable to attend to their posts.

Theft and attempted theft is punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment, while burglary carries a longer term of 14 years in the city.