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PEYA co-owner arrested on suspicion of fraud

26 December 2017

Police lead Boyce out of PEYA's shop in Central on Christmas Day
By The SUN

Hong Kong police are questioning Monday night Rhea Donna Boyce, co-owner of PEYA Travel, after arresting her at noon on Christmas Day in her Wanchai flat on suspicion of fraud in connection with her company’s airline booking mess.

The 38-year-old Boyce, a Filipina married to an Australian national listed as PEYA’s other co-owner, was seen being led by police in the afternoon to her shuttered office on the third floor of World Wide Plaza in Central where they searched for evidence.

Police said in a later report that the woman arrested whom they did not identify, would be detained overnight at the Central Police station for further investigation. They did not rule out further arrests.

The report said the “foreign woman” was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud foreign workers.’’

“A unit of the Central Police District Crime Squad who took over the investigation of cases arrested at about 12 noon today (Dec 25) in Wan Chai Road, Wan Chai, a 38-year foreign female person in charge of the travel company on suspicion of conspiring to commit fraud,” the report said.

People who witnessed Boyce being escorted to PEYA’s office on Monday afternoon said the search lasted for about two hours.

Afterwards, Boyce, better known in the Filipino community by her nickname “Yanyan”, was seen being escorted out of the shop wearing a face mask and her head covered in a pink shawl, as a fellow Filipina shouted and taunted her.
The police said that since mid-December, they had received complaints from several foreign women whose air tickets bought from PEYA Travel were not honored by airlines.

Police initially estimated there were as many as 645 people who had complained against the agency and that the sum involved was about $2 million.

However, the police said that in addition, a 67-year-old local man reported on Dec. 21 that his company, through which PEYA sourced its air tickets, had not been paid for about $3 million worth of tickets by the travel agency since May this year.

Police invited Boyce on Saturday night for questioning. Reports say she appeared with her legal representative at the police station but declined to talk.
Boyce offered to refund the money paid by her irate customers

But in a phone conversation with The SUN later that night, Boyce said she was sorry about what happened, and that she was willing to refund the money of all of PEYA's customers who were not able to board their flights, though she couldn't do it all at once. She also said she was considering paying compensation on top of the refund.

Boyce insisted there was no fraud or malice on her company's part, but remained vague as to the real cause.

The booking mess unraveled on Dec. 17 when groups of overseas Filipino workers on their way home for the holidays were told at the check-in counters at Chek Lap Kok that PEYA had not paid for their tickets, and could not thus not board their flights.

Boyce tried to remedy the problem by buying tickets for about 100 OFWs about to leave that day, but was apparently overwhelmed by hundreds more of her customers being turned away at the airport in the succeeding days.

Boyce did not show up at her office the next day, and left her marketing director, Arnold Grospe to face the growing number of irate customers who demanded a refund. At the close of business hours on Dec. 19, Grospe was led away by police for questioning, but was released without charges after about five hours.

Acting on the OFWs’ complaints, the Consulate’s acting head of post Roderico Atienza instructed the assistance to nationals section to begin taking statements from the affected PEYA customers.

On Dec. 21, Atienza wrote a letter to Commissioner of Police Lo Wai-chung, urging an investigation, but failed to get a quick response.

But three days later, as the number of complaints mounted, the police started investigating.

As of Dec. 24, the number of complainants had reached about 600, said ATN officer Danny Baldon.

Meanwhile, the first PEYA passengers who snapped up the free air tickets offered by the Philippine government and Cebu Pacific Air left on Dec. 25, and were sent off by Labor Attache Jalilo dela Torre and his staff.

Cebu Pac offered 50 free tickets to the affected OFWs on a first-come, first-served basis, while about the same number were paid for by the Philippine government and booked through Philippine Airlines.

Earlier, PAL, following Cathay Pacific Airways’ example, sent bigger aircraft to Hong Kong for their last flights on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23 to allow more affected passengers to fly to Manila.  

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