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Cops on lookout for other loan-sharks after major bust

02 April 2017

Philippine passports used as collateral for illegal loans are seized by HK police.

By Vir B. Lumicao

Hong Kong police say they are watching other loan-sharking syndicates after busting in early March a usurious lending operation that made $12 million in illegal interest earnings a year from more than 1,000 Filipino domestic helpers.

The police’s Organised Crime and Triad Bureau is appealing to domestic helper victims of similar loan-sharking syndicates to call its hotline, 63481240, and contact the investigating officers.

Officers contacted by The SUN would not say whether any more Filipino victims of loan sharks had come forward after the crackdown, or how many other suspected illegal money lenders are being watched.

But they say the “Operation Polarline” investigations are continuing.

“The operation is still ongoing and we do not rule out more arrests later,” he said, echoing what OCTB superintendent Louis Chan Hon-ming had said in a media briefing earlier.

On Mar 12 and 13, the OCTB arrested a local couple tagged as the masterminds, as well as their Filipina helper, allegedly their assistant, after passports used as collaterals had  changed hands, the police said.

Seven other Filipina maids serving as contacts and runners were also arrested in follow-up raids.
The police said over a short period of eight months, the syndicate had lent out a total of $10 million loan in cash, and made at least $12 million in illegal interest payments.

All 10 suspects, aged between 34 and 58, have been released on bail but told to report to the police in mid-April. The accused face charges of “conspiracy to lend money at excessive interest rate” and “conspiracy to blackmail”.

A total of 242 Philippine passports were recovered and a large number of bank records, debt notes, and employment contracts were seized. The holders, all domestic helpers, had used them as collaterals for loans of $4,000 to $15,000 that carried monthly interest rates of 10%, or 120% per year.

Police said the passports won’t be returned to the Consulate as they will be used as evidence in court.
The big number of such passports showed that, despite warnings from the Consulate that Filipino workers must not use their passports as loan collaterals, people desperate for money continue to hock the document for loans.

An officer of the Consulate had told The SUN earlier that of the estimated 120 people applying for passports daily, two or three would say they had lost their travel document.

The big jump in the number of applications for passport replacement has prompted the Consulate to warn workers that they would be given only one-way travel documents if it appears their documents had been used to take out loans.

Meanwhile, Filipino domestic helpers are being tapped by the Hong Kong police in the fight against crime.

The police has invited the helpers to a meeting on its “Crime Prevention Program” on April 2 from 11am to 12 noon at the Central Police Station on 2 Chung Kong Road, Sheung Wan, according to a notice posted on by the Consulate on its Facebook page.

The notice referred to an announcement on Mar 12, the day the police pounced on the two masterminds, Hong Kong couple, their maid and eight Filipina domestic helpers for loan-sharking .

That police operation smashed a syndicate that had allegedly victimised 1,200 Filipina helpers by lending them a total of $10 million at an excessively high interest of 10% per month. In just eight months, the syndicate made $12 million in interest income.

Police recovered $106,000, several work contracts and 242 Philippine passports, cell phones, bank documents and some pieces of jewelry.

The couple, their Filipino maid and seven other Pinays had been arrested but were released on bail. They were instructed to report again to the police in mid-April.

Superintendent Chan Hon-ming of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, in a media briefing on Mar 14, urged domestic workers to avoid dealing with loan sharks so that they don’t get trapped in debt.

Chan said if the helpers need to borrow money, they should go to legitimate lending institutions.
Those attending this Sunday’s meeting can gather in the report room of the Central Police Station before proceeding to the venue, the Consulate’s post said.

The notice indicated that up to 50 people could be invited to the meeting, but they should advise their confirmation through the Consulate’s community relations officer, Luz Iglesias at 2823 8500 or 2823 8501.

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