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PCG warns of longer process for replacing passports-for-loans

15 July 2018

Filipinos who use their passports as collateral
for loans face a tough time getting a replacemen
t

By Daisy CL Mandap

An officer of the Consulate has quelled speculation that Filipinos who use their passports as collateral for loans will be sent home with just a one-way travel document to get them through Hong Kong Immigration.

“It is not our job to send home Filipinos for whatever reason,” Consul Paulo Saret, head of the Consulate’s assistance to nationals section said, when told of the borrowers’ fears that they would be yanked out of their jobs in Hong Kong and told to leave.

Talks of this nature surfaced after hundreds of Filipinos who borrowed money from an elderly loan shark in Tsuen Wan effectively lost their passports when they were confiscated by police during a raid on the money lender’s home on Jul 4.

But Saret warned, replacing the lost passports would be difficult.

“We won’t give them new passports immediately. We will first seek the advice of the Head Office when they come to us with a request to renew their passports,” said Saret.

He also said only three Filipino domestic workers had so far admitted losing their passports to the loan shark, and asked for replacements. Their requests have all been sent to the Director of Passports of the Department of Foreign Affairs for consideration.

Consul Saret
But Saret agreed there could be hundreds of Filipinos who lost their travel documents in the process.

“We’re still trying to contact the officers in charge to find out how many of the 859 passports seized from the moneylender belonged to Filipinos,” he said.

At the same time, he said he would seek ways to get Hong Kong authorities to make money lenders realize the risk that they are taking by giving unsecured loans to domestic workers,

“We will meet with them (authorities) and maybe suggest ways on how both parties could help prevent this from happening again.”

In response to queries from The SUN, the Hong Kong police said that a 63-year-old local man was arrested in Tsuen Wan on Jul 4 for “lending money at excessive interest rates” and “carrying on business as a money lender without a license.”

The man was subsequently released on police bail and was told to report back in mid-August while the Regional Crime Unit of New Territories South continues its investigation.

Three passports were seized from the arrested man, and a further 887 passports were found in his residence in Shek Wai Kok Estate.

An initial investigation reportedly revealed that the arrested man had offered loans totaling over $3 million to more than 800 victims with interest that exceeded the legal rate of 60 per cent per annum. All borrowers were told to surrender their passports and employment contracts as collateral for the loans.

A total of 240 Philippine  passports were seized from a money lending syndicate in March last year
Earlier, on March 12 and 13 last year, officers of the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau also seized about 240 Philippine passports as part of its operation codenamed “Thunderbolt 17” and “Polarline” from an unlicensed money lending operation.

The illicit operation was reportedly headed by a local couple who hired several Filipinas to act as their runners or agents. All the victims were foreign domestic helpers.

Initial reports indicated the group had made a profit of $12 million in just eight months from loans totaling $10 million.

According to the police spokesperson, as of Jul 12 this year, “a 49-year-old local woman, a 50-year-old local man and 12 foreign women aged between 34 and 58 have been arrested for “conspiracy to lend money at excessive interest rates” and “conspiracy to blackmail”.

They were released on police bail and were told to report back in mid-August this year.

Apart from the passports, also seized from the suspects were employment contracts and $106,000 cash.

According to the police, their investigation revealed that the arrested persons in this case “belonged to the same syndicate which offered loans at an effective interest rate exceeding 120 per cent per annum to about 1,200 foreign domestic helpers from March to October, 2016.”

The domestic helpers were asked to surrender their passports and employment contracts as surety for the loans. 


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