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Filipina hotel worker cleared of money laundering

24 May 2017

By Vir B. Lumicao

A Filipina hotel worker was acquitted on May 5 by a Kowloon City magistrate of one charge relating to money laundering.

Rosalina Tam broke into tears and hugged her counsel after Magistrate Veronica Heung said the prosecution failed to prove her guilty beyond reasonable doubt of a charge of “conspiracy to deal with property known or believed to represent proceeds of indictable offense.”

Her co-accused, Hui Sze-yin, was found guilty on two counts of the same offense for knowingly receiving large sums of money remitted to her bank account by the same man, a certain Steve Michael, who they met separately and befriended on social media.

In the Mar 21-23 trial, the prosecution accused Tam of conspiring with Michael to launder proceeds from illegal or criminal activities. But Tam, widow of a Hong Kong man, said her online lover told her it was money from project-related activity.

The magistrate first read her lengthy verdict on defendant No.2, Hui, and convicted her on two charges of conspiring to launder questionably sourced money. She set the sentencing of Hui on May 23.

Heung, reading her verdict on Tam, said she was satisfied with the defense’s assertion that Tam was tricked by Michael, allegedly a Caucasian working in London and the widow’s online boyfriend, into giving him her Public Bank account number.

During the trial, the prosecution charged that Tam used that account in March 2014 to receive $350,000 remitted by Michael and from which she deposited $347,000 into an HSBC account as instructed by the man.

But Tam’s lawyer said Michael gained her client’s trust by calling her his wife and convinced her that sending her money was in preparation for their “planning their life together”. He said he would come to Hong Kong in June to talk about their future.

Michael told her he could not deposit the money in his own account and asked her to handle the transactions for him as his wife, the lawyer said.

On March 29, 2014, Tam found out she could not access her ATM account to check her salary. Two days later, she was arrested by police for alleged money laundering.

In a video interview, investigators asked Tam about a $374,000 deposit into her account after police found in a message from Michael that he was giving her $23,000 of that amount. The defendant said it was financial assistance to her, not a reward.

In her verdict, Heung said there were inconsistencies in the prosecution witnesses’ statements that cast doubt on the case against Tam.

“The prosecution has failed to prove you guilty beyond reasonable doubt, so I acquit you of Charge 1,” Heung said.  

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