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Filipina jailed 12 months for role in $1.6m money-laundering case

22 June 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao 
Gumabay said during her sentencing in Kowloon Court that she did not know her bank accounts were used by a scammer 

A Filipina helper was jailed a total of 12 months for her role in laundering nearly $1.6 million by lending her two ATM cards to an online friend she knew only as Williams, who used her accounts to move money from scam victims.

Estrella Gumabay, 44, was sentenced today, Jun 22, by Kowloon City Magistrate Raymond Wong nearly three weeks after she pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiring to deal with property known or believed to be proceeds of a crime, or money laundering.

Gumabay, a mother of two girls, wiped off her tears as Wong told her she committed a very serious offense and the amounts involved were nearly $500,000 for the first part and more than $1 million for the second part.

The magistrate said the sentence for a similar offense that involved $1 million to $4 million was 32 months.

Given Gumabay’s clear record, remorse and guilty plea at an early stage, the magistrate sentenced her to 10 months in jail for laundering more than $1 million, and three months for the $500,000, with the last two months to run consecutively.

Gumabay was arrested last September after police investigating two online scams followed the money trail to her Hang Seng Bank and Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp accounts.
She said she passed on her ATM cards to a man who befriended her online and claimed to be British. She did not know he was an online scammer.

In mitigation, her lawyer said Gumabay was a victim herself, and that she did not benefit from the money that passed through her accounts.

The lawyer said his client had tried to help locate the culprit, but the man could not be found and it was unlikely he would be arrested.
Before the sentencing, Gumabay gave the magistrate a letter in which she said was very sorry about her offense.

The case stemmed from separate complaints of online scams that two female victims, teacher Cheng Ngan-ping, 40, and hospital manager Chan Tsz-yan Cindy, 49, reported.

Cheng said she met a certain Dennis Leung on Facebook in 2018, who later on said he had sent her some gifts but asked for courier fees. She sent $21,500 to a Hang Seng account which Leung gave, but when he asked for more, she contacted police.

Chan had a similar experience with one Chiwang Chales who she met on Facebook. On Dec 24, 2018, he told Chan he had sent her gifts and asked for Customs payment. After she sent $19,500 to an HSBC account, Chiwang disappeared.

Gumabay opened an account with Hang Seng and another with HSBC on two separate days in August 2018
Investigators found the two accounts were listed in Gumabay’s name. She opened the HSBC account on Aug 18, 2018 and the Hang Seng one on Aug 31 of the same year.

About 30 deposits totaling $485,959.43 were made into her Hang Seng account, and 42 ATM withdrawals totaling $485,839.50, nearly wiping up all the money in it.

For the HSBC account, 37 deposits totaling $1,104,637.38 were made, as well as 75 ATM withdrawals and transfers totaling $1,104,300, leaving a balance of only around $300.

All the bank transactions, which were in Hong Kong dollars, were made between Sept 3, 2018 and Jan 18, 2019. The prosecution said they did not include the cash that Gumabay had used to open them.

After her arrest, police did not find any bank documents on her relating to the two accounts, or any related evidence on her mobile phone.

In two statements she gave the police, the defendant said she came to Hong Kong in 2008 as a domestic worker.

She said did not know Cheng and Chan, and neither she did she know their phone numbers and Facebook accounts. She denied knowledge of the online scams.

The defendant said she opened the Hang Seng account for her savings and the HSBC account for receiving a loan repayment from her friend.

Gumabay said after meeting Williams, he told her he was coming over for a vacation and wanted to send her money to spend on his visit. She said she agreed and when they met for the first time here, she gave her the two ATM cards and their passwords.

On their second meeting, he did not return the ATM card as he reportedly said he still had money in the accounts, Gumabay said. She said she wasn’t aware of how Williams used the cards.

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