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Lost passport reports dip after raid on loan sharks

27 April 2017

By Vir B. Lumicao

There has been a noticeable drop in the number of passports being reported as lost by OFWs, according to officials of the Consulate who say that this may be related to the current crackdown on loan sharks by the Hong Kong police.

Vice Consul Fatima Quintin, head of the PCG’s economic and political section as well as the passport division, told The SUN that on Sunday, Apr 23, there were 450 applicants for passport appointments but not one reported a lost passport.

Months before the Hong Kong Police launched its anti-loan-sharking operation, around five passports were being reported as lost to the Consulate each Sunday, while two to three such cases occurred on weekdays.

Quintin told The SUN that it looked like the ongoing police crackdown was causing an impact.
That view was shared by Vice Consul Alex Vallespin, head of the assistance to nationals section.
“So far, nakakatuwa ano. Parang kumonti yung mga nagri-report sa amin ng lost passports,” Vallespin told The SUN in a separate interview.

He said it was possible lost passport reports the ATN was receiving these days were genuine.
“We think it’s legit that they could indeed be lost passports. But, of course, we know that if you tell us it’s lost passport, we have no way of verifying it,” Vallespin said.

On the second week of March, Hong Kong police arrested 10 people and captured 242 Philippine passports that were apparently used by OFWs as collateral in borrowing money from usurious lenders.

Among those arrested were a Chinese couple who allegedly financed the illegal lending operation, along with eight Filipino domestic helpers, including their maid who reportedly served as their assistant and receiver of the hocked passports. The rest were runners and contacts.

A police report said that on Mar 12-13 officers from the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau arrested the suspects after passports changed hands in a transaction in Mong Kok.

The ATN said that of the 242 passports recovered from the syndicate, some came from people who lent them to debtors as substitutes so they could renew their work contracts and visas.

Vallespin said those passports seized from the syndicate will no longer be returned to their owners, as the police will turn them over to the Consulate.

“We will cancel the passports and issue the owners temporary travel documents on which they can stick their visas,” Vallespin said.

He also said owners of the recovered passports might be invited for questioning by the police.
But he reportedly cautioned the police against focusing on the Filipinos who were mere pawns in the scam, and instead go after the financiers as they are the ones who profit the most in the illegal activity.

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