Hong Kong Customs cracks down on largest money laundering case in its history involving about $6 billion

18 Jan 2023

Hong Kong Customs mounted an operation codenamed "Hornet" on January 5 and successfully smashed a large-scale money laundering syndicate as well as a money laundering operation centre operated at a residential premises. The amount involved in the case was about $6 billion, which was the highest on record among money laundering cases detected by Customs. During the operation, Customs has arrested nine persons suspected to be connected with the case and has already arranged to freeze a total of $16 million of assets held by the arrestees.

Acting upon intelligence, Customs officers identified a suspected money laundering syndicate and initiated a financial investigation. It was revealed that the syndicate members had opened a number of personal and company bank accounts in various local banks to deal with large amounts of money with unknown sources between 2020 and 2022. The total amount of the suspicious transactions has reached $6 billion.

The investigation also showed that the background and the financial status of the syndicate members were highly incommensurate with the large-value transactions recorded in their bank accounts. They also rented a residential premises at a large private housing estate, which was suspected to be an operation centre for money laundering activities.

After an in-depth investigation, Customs conducted an enforcement operation on January 5. Nine persons aged between 39 and 68, comprising three men and six women and including the mastermind, were arrested for suspected "dealing with property known or reasonably believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence" (commonly known as money laundering) under the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance (OSCO).

Furthermore, Customs officers also raided 10 residential premises, eight companies and a licensed money changer. About $3.9 million in cash, banknote counters, a number of mobile phones and computers, company chops, cheque books, bank cards and bank documents were seized.

An investigation is ongoing. The nine arrested persons have been released on bail pending further investigation, and the likelihood of further arrests is not ruled out.

Under the OSCO, a person commits an offence if he or she deals with any property knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that such property, in whole or in part, directly or indirectly represents any person's proceeds of an indictable offence. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $5 million and imprisonment for 14 years while the crime proceeds are also subject to confiscation.

Members of the public may report any suspected money laundering activities to Customs' 24-hour hotline 2545 6182 or its dedicated crime-reporting email account ([email protected]).

Source: Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department