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3 Pinoys jailed 5 months for bank fraud

19 February 2019

by Vir B. Lumicao

The 3 tourists were sentenced in Eastern court

Three Filipino tourists have each been sentenced to five months in jail after pleading guilty in Eastern Court to four counts of “using false instruments” in opening accounts in two Hong Kong banks.

Enrique Vargas, Ryan Illustrisimo and Maureen Gutierrez, all call center workers, had their heads bowed, with Vargas wiping away tears, as Magistrate Lam Tsz-kam read the sentences to them.

All had pleaded guilty to the offence.

Lam sentenced each to four months in jail for using the forged documents in opening accounts at Bank of China, and an additional month for using the same documents at Standard Chartered Bank.  

Vargas, a customer service officer, had told investigators the three of them did not know each other. He said he only responded to an offer on social media about free travel and accommodation to Hong Kong.

When he contacted the person who posted the offer, he found out the deal was to come here and open a banking account. 

All three suspects said they saw the same offer and grabbed the opportunity to visit Hong Kong for free. They said the documents were handed to them by local men who met them when they arrived here on Oct 9.

Vargas and Illustrisimo, who were both 30, and Gutiterrez, 23, were arrested on Oct 10 last year after they submitted forged work contracts and home addresses to successfully open bank accounts at the Bank of China branch in United Centre in Admiralty.

According to the prosecution, the defendants went to the BOC branch at 1:30pm and submitted work contracts with Wharf (Holdings) Ltd dated Oct 2, 2018 and address proofs dated Oct 5.

The bank’s senior operations manager later discovered faults in the contracts, such as typographical errors and suspicious Hong Kong addresses. Suspecting that the contracts were forged, the officer suspended the defendants’ accounts.

When Vargas, Illustrisimo and Gutierrez tried but failed to access their accounts around 1:40pm, they returned to the BOC branch and were told to wait. Unknown to them, the case was reported to the police and at 2:30pm, they were arrested.

Officers also searched the hotel rooms of the three but found nothing significant.

A day earlier, the three successfully opened bank accounts at the Standard Chartered branch at The Forum Exchange on Connaught Road Central using the same forged documents.

The human resources manager of Wharf, meanwhile, confirmed that the contracts were forged.

Staff of Cathay Pacific Airlines contacted by police said the defendants had confirmed return flights to Manila from Hong Kong on Oct 13.

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