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Elderly Fil-Am acquitted of trafficking 1.5kg of cocaine

Posted on 29 July 2021 No comments

By Vir B. Lumicao

The High Court jury acquitted the defendant by a unanimous verdict

An elderly US citizen of Filipino descent who came to Hong Kong expecting to inherit a US$10.5 million fortune promised by a Nigerian man he met online, was acquitted today, Jul 29, of trafficking in dangerous drugs.

The High Court jury returned a unanimous verdict after a trial that dragged on for 18 days.

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Rogelio G. Purugganan, 78, had been detained since he was arrested by Customs officers at Hong Kong International Airport on Jul 12, 2019, upon his arrival from the United States on a long trip that included a stopover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Purugganan, who refused help from the Consulate shortly after his arrest, saying he was a US citizen, pleaded not guilty at the opening of the trial on Jul 2 to one count of bringing into Hong Kong 2.08 kilograms of suspected cocaine concealed in his suitcase.

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The slab contained 1.54kg of pure cocaine with an estimated market value of $2.3 million.

Defense lawyer Michael Arthur told the jury at the close of the trial on Monday that his client, who was 76 at the time of his arrest, came to Hong Kong to claim what the Nigerian, David Boyce, said was his inheritance from a deceased wealthy man.


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Boyce reportedly told Purugganan in email exchanges the money was already in a Hong Kong bank. Boyce sent the defendant three fake certificates purportedly from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and a Nigerian bank about the fund’s authenticity.

Arthur said the defendant was a victim of scammers preying on the elderly mostly in the US and Europe to use them as drug couriers.

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“There is no indication in the prosecution evidence that Rogelio knew he was carrying the drug in his suitcase,” Arthur said in his closing argument on the 15th day of the trial that was originally scheduled for 14 days.

He cited cases in the past decade where 10 mostly European retirees were enticed by crime syndicates to join an investment meeting here. Once here, the retirees were told to go to Australia and New Zealand to meet their sponsors.


They were arrested at HKIA when it turned out the suitcases issued to them by the syndicate had crystal methamphetamine hidden in secret compartments.

In November 2015, six duped “drug mules” who had been detained for seven years were acquitted by Justice Zervos, who said the elderly detainees had no knowledge of the drug in their luggage. He scolded the prosecution for not going after the perpetrators instead.

Arthur said it has been widely reported in media that the scammers befriend unsuspecting elderly retirees on social media or by telephone and offer them free overseas travel on various pretexts, including investment opportunities and other scams.

The 2kg of cocaine found on Purugganan was concealed in this suitcase

In an overseas phone interview with the defendant’s wife and his son last week, Arthur and prosecutor Anthony Sherry were told that since about 10 years ago, Purugganan had received thousands of emails about huge fortunes left by deceased people that were waiting to be transferred to trustees abroad.

They said he entertained the emails because he had then just retired from government service as a paralegal and Internal Revenue Service staff and seemed to be bored.

They said he was fond of replying to the email senders, while his family had been warning him those were so-called Nigerian 419 scams that had been preying on gullible elderly people. So they were surprised when he told them he was leaving for Hong Kong.

Arthur said the defendant’s itinerary took him from New York to Addis Ababa, where a man on Boyce’s instruction replaced his suitcase for the trip to Hong Kong. He said it was the man who packed the suitcase for him.

Boyce also assured the defendant the money was already in Hong Kong, the lawyer said.

“Are you sure I’m going to get the money?” the defendant reportedly asked Boyce when he was in Addis Ababa and the Nigerian replied, “Yes, the US$10.5 million you get already in the bank.”

Arthur said the jury knew that they are supposed to acquit a defendant if there is no evidence to prove his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. In this case, there was no proof Purugganan knew that cocaine was concealed in his suitcase, the barrister said.

Judge Audrey Patricia Campbell-Moffat told the jury about a report on scams published Wednesday by the South China Morning Post. She expressed her concern they could have read the report and influence their verdict.

She told the jury to decide on their verdict based on the evidence they had and what they heard from the prosecution and the defense.

Prosecutor Sherry, in his closing address to the jury Wednesday, pressed his case that the defendant came to Hong Kong to deliver the cocaine to a drug syndicate that is controlling the illicit trade in the city.

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Elderly residents line up for vaccines as 2 more imported infections reported

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By The SUN 

The 2 tested negative on arrival, but turned positive on their 3rd day in quarantine

Two new imported cases of Covid-19 were reported today, Jul 29, and both carried the mutant L452R strain commonly linked to the Delta variant.

In addition, one of the patients who had flown in from the United States, had received two doses of the BioNTech vaccine in Hong Kong, one on Mar 17 and the other on Apr 7. He also tested positive for antibodies.

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Both he and the other patient who came from Tanzania, arrived in Hong Kong on Jul 25 and tested positive on their Day 3 test while in hotel quarantine.

The Centre for Health Protection also reported the case of a 46-year-old resident who left Hong Kong on Jul 15 and tested positive for Covid-19 on his arrival in London on Jul 17.

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As a result, Rosedale Hotel in Causeway Bay where he had stayed before leaving Hong Kong was put under compulsory testing last night.

Some of the elderly applicants were in line as early as 6am (RTHK photo)

Meanwhile, many elderly residents queued up early at community vaccination centres (CVCs) across Hong Kong to take advantage of the new walk-in scheme for them which kicked off today.

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Under the program, people aged 70 and older no longer have to book an appointment to get a Covid-19 vaccine. All they have to do is secure a ticket that is given out at all CVCs starting at 7:45 am each day, indicating the time on that day when they can get vaccinated.

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Despite government’s advice that anyone can queue up for the tickets on behalf of an elderly recipient, many of the vaccine applicants had lined up themselves, well ahead of the start of the distribution.

According to a report from RTHK, a man who lined up for a ticket at a Lai Chi Kok CVC said he was there as early as 6am. He lived alone and didn’t know how to use the internet, so he had to go get the ticket himself.


The government said it will issue 4,500 tickets each day to encourage more elderly residents to get vaccinated. Those aged 70 and above were found to have the lowest vaccination rate among all age groups.

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Filipina helper jailed 10 months for stealing employer's jewelry worth $147k

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By Vir B. Lumicao 

Millare stole several pieces of gold jewelry given to the employer by her late husband

A Filipina domestic helper was sentenced to 10 months in jail today, Jul 29, after she admitted stealing $147,000 worth of gold ornaments early this year from her employer in Tseung Kwan O.

Karen K. Millare, 31 and single, begged for leniency through her lawyer, but the magistrate said the sentence was the lightest he could give her, as her offense was a breach of trust and the value of the stolen goods was not small. 

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The prosecutor said the jewelry, which the widowed employer Chung Siu-fong, 74, claimed were bequeathed to her by her deceased husband, were believed to have been  stolen in January and April this year.

Wan Chai police discovered the theft in their regular check on pawnshop transactions when they noticed the stolen items were hocked by Millare between Jan 4 and Apr 23 in pawnshops in North Point and Wan Chai. They found out she was Chung’s helper.

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The officers went to Chung’s place at Ming Chin House (Block D), Ying Ming Court, Po Lam, on Jun 16 and showed her photos of the pawned jewelry. She confirmed they were the jewelry inherited by her husband and passed on to her.

She said she stored the jewelry in a safe that she locked in her wardrobe then kept the only key in a handbag inside her bedroom. When she and the officers inspected the box, they discovered the jewelry missing.


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The officers searched the bedroom of the helper and found one more gold necklace and a gold ring with emerald stone among her belongings. Chung confirmed those were also hers.

Millare was arrested on the same morning and was taken to the Wan Chai Police Station where she admitted during a video interview that she stole the items and pawned them on various dates.

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The stolen jewelry were two gold necklaces bought at high-end jeweler Chow Sang Sang for $30,000 and $42,000 and two bracelets also bought from the same shop for $35,000 and $40,000.

The prosecutor said the defendant had a clear record in Hong Kong. She added that the four stolen items will be returned to the police pending agreement between the investigators and the pawnshop.


The defense lawyer said Millare came to Hong Kong in 2017 to work for Chung as domestic helper. She had a clear record and admitted taking the jewelry out of greed.

He said the Filipina had a good relationship with the employer, with whom she was on her third employment contract. The lawyer said she pleaded guilty, was remorseful and wanted to compensate the owner, but she had been jobless since her arrest.

The magistrate said he could only give the defendant a one-third discount.

Bustamante is accused of stealing clothes from Wong's Ornaments at Euro Trade Centre

Garments theft

Meanwhile, a Filipina waitress was charged today with stealing assorted garments from a shop at Euro Trade Centre on Des Voeux Road Central.

M.A. Bustmante, 37, was accused of stealing a pair of trousers, a pair of shorts, two pairs of socks, three pairs of denim shorts, three t-shirts, four vests and 10 underpants.

The items were allegedly taken by the accused on Jul 15 at Wong’s Ornament Shop on the ground floor of the building.

The magistrate adjourned the case until Sept 14 at the request of the defendant’s duty lawyer, who said he needed legal advice.

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24 FDHs, 5 others arrested as police smash money laundering syndicate

Posted on 28 July 2021 No comments

By Vir B. Lumicao 

Police display money and other items they seized in an earlier money laundering case (File)

Police have arrested 23 Filipina and one Indonesian domestic helpers, as they smashed a romance scam and money laundering syndicate allegedly operated by three Nigerian men and two Filipina residents.

They announced the arrests at a press conference held earlier today, Jul 28.

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At least 35 bank accounts in the name of the helpers were reportedly used by the syndicate to launder more than $27 million obtained from at least 20 online romance scams and two email scams carried out from July 2020 to May this year, the police said.

Officers from the Financial Intelligence and Investigation Bureau raided several locations across Hong Kong on Monday and Tuesday in an operation codenamed “Morningray,” and arrested the 29 suspects, mostly from their employers’ homes.

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The helpers were released on bail with orders to report to the police in late September.

Two Nigerian men believed to be the leaders of the syndicate and another Nigerian and the two Filipina residents who were said to be core members have been detained and still being investigated, the police said.

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One of the two alleged ringleaders has a Hong Kong identity card while the other holds a recognizance form, a temporary identification document that allows the bearer to remain in Hong Kong temporarily.

The core members, who include the two Filipina residents, were tasked with finding women willing to open bank accounts, then retrieving the illegal proceeds from ATMs.

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All the arrested suspects are being investigated for “conspiracy to deal with property known or believed to be proceeds of an indictable offense,” or money laundering.

Investigators said the group has been operating for about a year, offering monetary rewards as little as $1,000 to induce the 24 helpers to open a local bank account and hand over their ATM cards and bank account information.


In the online romance scams, the syndicate members who claimed to be professional workers, targeted 20 victims, aged between 21 and 73, whom they met on social media. Using deception, they convinced the victims to remit money to the accounts that they had taken over.  

After the victims deposited the money, the scammers used the helpers’ ATM cards to immediately withdraw or transfer the illicit funds to other bank accounts.

Police said the victims in the email scam were two local companies and an employee of an overseas company. The total amount they lost exceeds $13 million.

During the operation, personnel seized a batch of exhibits, including a cash counter, more than 100 ATM cards and approximately $330,000 in cash. The officers also froze the bank accounts involved, which were still holding approximately $1.5 million.

Police sources estimate that 8 in 10 cases that they investigated in recent weeks that involved Filipinas pertained to their ATM cards and accounts being used for money laundering.

The case is still under investigation and further arrests cannot be ruled out, police said.

They warned that money laundering, which could include an act as simple as letting someone’s ATM card to be used by another person, is a serious crime.

Police in a webinar with the PCG warn FDHs not to fall into the laundering trap

“The public, including foreign domestic helpers, should not open bank accounts for others to use. They should not lend their bank account to others for illegal purposes,” the police said.

“According to Hong Kong laws, anyone who knows or has reason to believe that a certain property, in whole or in part and directly or indirectly, is obtained from a crime and deals with it commits money laundering,” the police said.

Police said a person convicted of money laundering is liable to a maximum penalty of $5 million fine and imprisonment for 14 years.

Any person who is convicted of conspiracy to defraud, such as knowingly lending one’s ATM card to people engaged in the illicit act, is also liable to a maximum sentence of 14 years in prison.

Another daughter of Saudi diplomat tests positive for Covid-19

Posted on No comments

By Daisy CL Mandap 

The Tai Koo block where the siblings resided was locked down on Jul 19 

The 17-year-old daughter of a Saudi Arabian diplomat in Hong Kong has tested positive for Covid-19 and the mutant strain, L452R, on her 7th day test in a quarantine center.

She is the sister of a 13-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy, who were both found infected four days after they all arrived on Jul 16 aboard flight QR 818 from Saudi Arabia.

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The younger girl was listed as being in critical condition a few days later, but is now said to have improved slightly to “serious.”

The siblings’ arrival tests at the airport all showed they did not carry the virus. But the result turned positive for the two younger kids on their third day tests while they were supposedly undergoing home quarantine.

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She showed symptoms on Jul 17, but still went to several places with her brother, including the Peak Galleria, Citygate mall and the Ngong Ping cable car ride while they were meant to be isolating in their house at Tang Kung Mansion in Tai Koo Shing, Quarry Bay.

Later, it was found out the girl had also been to two shops in the Tai Koo Shing mall.

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As immediate family members of an official from a foreign country, they were exempted from hotel quarantine but were meant to observe strict protocol, like being fetched by a private vehicle from the airport, and driven directly to the place where they were supposed to isolate.

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The elder sister, their father, their driver and domestic worker, were all moved to a government quarantine centre on Jul 20, after the children’s infections were detected.

The elder daughter started having symptoms of Covid-19 yesterday, when her test result also showed she had been infected.


She took the number of cases in Hong Kong today to 11,980.

 

Well-loved Filcom leader Arnold Pineda to be laid to rest tomorrow

Posted on 27 July 2021 No comments

By Daisy CL Mandap

Arnold, who wore many hats, was a friendly and fun presence in many community events

For nearly three decades, musician/teacher/writer/publisher/events host/charity fundraiser Arnold Pineda was a visible presence in the Filipino community in Hong Kong.

But that changed on July 5 this year, when Arnold was rushed to hospital late in the afternoon complaining of abdominal pain, and passed just a few hours later due to a ruptured aortic aneurysm. He was just 59.

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Tomorrow morning at 11am, his family and close friends will gather in a final goodbye to him at Princess Margaret Hospital, after which he will be cremated. Family members say the number of attendees has been trimmed in line with pandemic restrictions imposed by the government.

But that is not the only event where people in the community whose lives he touched can pay final respects.

The first tribute to Arnold was held last Sunday in Central

The tributes began last Sunday when some Filcom leaders and Arnold’s other friends in the community gathered privately to recall the days when he made their lives just a little brighter by his funny antics, soulful songs and  heartfelt piece of advice.

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On Thursday, some of his musician friends led by Rosalie Carpio are slated to hold another private gathering where Arnold will be remembered in a mix of songs, reminiscences and quite possibly, jokes he himself had passed around.

A separate tribute is being organized on Friday by his estranged wife Norma and the Hong Kong Musicians Union, , for which Arnold often performed with his youngest child, Adrian, during its pre-pandemic annual event, Concert in the Park.

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Arnold was a friend to many as he was the one they would go to if they wanted someone who could entertain the crowd in a witty, funny and engaging way. He could sing, he could dance, he could adlib his way through any crowd.

Best of all, he was generous and friendly, and lived to entertain.

Arnold with his children Karla, Kim, Katrina and Adrian

He was also a deeply caring father to his four children, Karla, Kim, Katrina and Adrian, whom he took with him to his public engagements when they were younger, and whose achievements he would often post about on his Facebook page.

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Another constant presence was his longtime partner, Mary Ann, who was visible in many of his activities, particularly the regular zumba sessions they organized on Sundays at Pier 10 in Central.

But probably his best legacy to the Filcom was his founding of the Ang Lahing Kayumanggi (shortened to Kayumanggi years later) magazine 27 years ago, when Filipinos were hungry for ways of communicating with each other.

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Through Kayumanggi, Arnold brought out the best in many people, be it through their  beauty, skills or generosity. He also used the magazine as a vehicle for sharing inspiring stories, funny vignettes, and his own words of wisdom.

Arnold and Mary Ann (in white) with the Kayumanggi Zumba Dancers

Long after many other publications in the community had folded, Kayumanggi was one of a few that kept going on, supported by many loyal followers who were as hooked to its contents as to the genuine warmth of the man behind it.


In his later years, after he twice faced death due to a recurring heart problem, Arnold became more spiritual, and often started his day by posting inspirational quotes on Facebook.

On his last birthday on Jun 28, he posted what could only be a fitting goodbye to a life well lived – his own. He said: “Thank you, dear God, for everything.”

Farewell from us, your friends at The SUN, Arnold. Thank you for the friendship.

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