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Filipina DH admits role in money laundering but denies taking part in scam

01 June 2020

By Vir B. Lumicao

The Filipina says she lent her 2 ATM cards to a man she met for the first time

A Filipina helper who gave her two ATM cards to a British man she met on Facebook two years ago pleaded guilty today, Jun 1, to two charges of conspiring to launder nearly $1.6 million believed to be money her friend had scammed from other people.

Estrella Gumabay, 44 and a mother of two girls, was ordered put in jail by Magistrate Raymond Wong after she admitted her guilt. She will be sentenced on Jun 22.

Gumabay had been out on bail earlier.

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She 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 was charged with two counts of conspiring to deal with property known or believed to be proceeds of a crime, a euphemism for money laundering.

The prosecution said Gumabay would execute a statement that police can use to find and arrest the scammer, a man identified only as Williams.
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Wong gave the prosecution two weeks to get her statement before her sentencing.

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

Cheng told investigators she met a certain Dennis Leung on Facebook in 2018. On Sept 22 that year, Leung said he had sent her some gifts but requested courier fees. She remitted $21,500 to a Hang Seng account two days later.



She reported the case after the man asked for more money.

Chan recounted a similar experience with a man named Chiwang Chales who she met on Facebook. On Dec 24, 2018 he told Chan he had sent her gifts and asked for Customs payment.

She sent $19,500 to an HSBC account but never got the gifts. Chiwang later vanished.
Police consolidated the two investigations and discovered that the Hang Seng and HSBC accounts were opened on Aug 31 and Aug 18, 2018, respectively, by Gumabay.

On further investigation, police learned that for the Hang Seng account, some 30 deposits totaling $485,959.43 were made. Likewise, 42 ATM withdrawals totaling $485,839.50 were made from the account.
 
A total of $1.1 million was deposited into the maid's HSBC bank account

For the HSBC account, police found 37 deposit transactions totaling $1,104,637.38. They also noted 75 withdrawals and transfers totaling $1,104,300 from the account via ATM. The transactions were made between Sept 3, 2018 and Jan 18, 2019.

The prosecution said the transactions in both accounts were in Hong Kong dollars and excluded the cash that Gumabay used to open the accounts.

When police arrested the defendant, they did not find any bank documents relating to the two accounts. Neither did they find any 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 was earning a salary of $4,520 plus food allowance each month, part of which she sent home. 

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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