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Recruiter to Russia on trial for overcharging

04 January 2018

By Vir B. Lumicao

The owner of a Hong Kong employment agency is in court for allegedly charging a Filipina domestic worker $20,000 for an invitation from an employer in Russia that she could use to apply for a commercial visa.

Gilda Flores Li, also a Filipina and owner of Quality Consultants Agency, pleaded not guilty on Jan 2, the first day of her trial  in Kwun Tong Court.

She is being prosecuted by the Employment Agencies Administration of the Hong Kong Labour Department on three counts of “receiving payment other than the prescribed commission”.

Li, in her 50s and who appeared without a lawyer, told the court “money changed hands” between her and her alleged victim, Jean Lorena Sheel, but it was meant for an invitation that the Russian consulate requires to issue a commercial visa to a person.

The prosecution presented Sheel as the first of its five witnesses against Li.

Sheel, a soft-spoken woman in her 40s who had been a domestic helper in Hong Kong since 2011, said she came to know about Quality when she browsed the internet early last year and saw its advertisement for jobs in Russia and Canada.

The helper said on Feb 2 she called Quality’s phone number listed on the advertisement and  talked to a woman whom she later came to know as Li.

She applied for a job in Russia and was told by Li that she had to pay $20,000 – the first payment of $10,000 to be made in advance and another $10,000 when the invitation arrived in two weeks.

When Magistrate Andrew Mok asked her if she was given a breakdown of where the $20,000 would go, Sheel said the amount would cover visa and air ticket.

Sheel said on Mar 5 last year, she went to Quality’s office and paid $11,000 in cash to Li.
She said she wasn’t given a receipt so the helper took a notebook, wrote the amount she paid Li on a page and took a picture of the scribbled payment.

She made another payment of $4,000 on April and on April 9, Li allegedly called Sheel to tell her that the invitation had arrived. The helper went to Li’s office to check the invitation and found no mistake.

On April 25, Li asked Sheel to pay the remaining $5,000, as the visa might soon arrive. Li gave the jobseeker her HSBC account number where Sheel would deposit the money. As the helper was working, she requested her cousin to deposit the amount in the bank account.

But when Sheel called Li to confirm if her cousin had deposited the money in Li’s account, the agency owner told her the visa couldn’t be issued because there was a mistake in the helper’s birth year, which was printed on the invitation as 1975 instead of 1976.

Sheel was heart-broken when Li told her about the mistake. Since then she said she had been asking Li to refund her money, even only just half of the amount, but she was made to wait until she ran out of hope.

In the meantime, Sheel said she had no more job and would exit to China each time her visa ran out.

The trial continues.

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