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Police seize record 1,400 passports from lending company

11 June 2019

By Daisy CL Mandap

A record haul of more than 1,400 passports, which could belong  mostly to Filipina domestic workers, have been seized from lending company, OFC, during a raid on their Sheung Wan office on Jun 5 (not Jun 6 as earlier reported).

No photo description available.
OFC has its offices in this building
A belated response from the Police Public Relations Branch today, Jun 11, said a 35-year-old local man was arrested for “breach of money lenders licence conditions” in an office on 206-210 Des Voeux Road Central.”

According to the police statement, an initial investigation revealed that the arrested man had offered loans totaling more than $4 million to more than 1,400 victims, who were asked to surrender their passports and employment contracts as collateral.
The police, however, did not respond to a query on why at least 30 of the passports were returned to the holders over the weekend, despite the long-standing practice of turning over the seized documents to the Philippine Consulate.

Told about this, the Consulate’s assistance to nationals section headed by Consul Paulo Saret immediately contacted the police, who reportedly apologized and promised to turn over the passports to them by tomorrow.
“We already talked to the police that if they don’t want to keep the passports as evidence, they should not be returning the passports directly to the debtors but to the Consulate. They apologized and agreed to stop what they are doing and turn over all the passports to the Consulate tomorrow,” said Saret in a text message.
 
Police in Wanchai returned some of the seized passports
The suspect, who insiders say is a man surnamed Wong, part owner of OFC Holding Limited and Cheers Holding Company Limited. He was reportedly released on police bail and required to report back in mid-July. The District Crime Squad of the Wan Chai Police Station is investigating the case.

The arrest was apparently over the failure of Wong to register the Sheung Wan address in the money lending license issued to Cheers Holding, but not to OFC . Its license shows addresses in Shamshuipo and Wanchai.
Cheer Holding also operates Cheers Employment Limited, with which it shares the  Wanchai address.

According to insiders, Wong and his wife spent several hours at the Consulate earlier today to explain their side.

A day before, a local Chinese woman who had assisted some of OFC’s customers in getting their passports back from the police in the Wanchai station, assured The SUN that she was there to help.

She said around 200 Filipinas swarmed their office on Sunday to inquire about their passports after hearing about the police raid.

“We are scared. I can tell you we try our best. Yesterday, we were working from 9am to 2am (today) in the office,” the woman said in an interview, referring to the deluge of customers.

“But I can tell you if there’s anything we can do to help the Filipinos, we will do it,” she added.

She did not say why the company was asking for passports and employment contracts as collateral for the loans, despite well-publicized reports of police cracking down on money lenders who engage in such a practice.

The Consulate has also taken a firm stance against the practice, refusing to allow nationals who pawn their passports in exchange for a loan to secure a replacement in Hong Kong.

They are issued a one-way travel document so they can return to the Philippines and apply for a new one at the Department of Foreign Affairs’ passport office in Manila.

This record haul could mean the Consulate being swamped with appeals for help from Filipinos who lost their passports in the raid.

Up until now, some of the more than 400 Filipinos whose passports were seized from an unlicensed money lender in North Point late last year are still seeking the Consulate’s help in getting replacements.
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