Asia-Pacific News

Hong Kong police break loan shark syndicate preying on Filipino domestic helpers

Clifford Lo
A group of Filipino women sit and chat and eat in the streets in Hong Kong Central on a Sunday evening.
In Pictures | Corbis | Getty Images

A loan sharking syndicate that lent HK$10 million to Filipino domestic helpers in Hong Kong at interest rates of up to 120 per cent a year has been broken by police following the arrest of two suspected ringleaders and eight members.

Initial investigations showed that from March to October last year, about 1,200 domestic helpers borrowed money from the syndicate that is thought to have been run by a Hong Kong couple, according to police.

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"The loan amount was between HK$4,000 and HK$15,000 each. The debtors were required to surrender their passports and employment contracts as security," Superintendent Chan Hon-ming of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau said on Tuesday.

He said borrowers had to pay 10 per cent of the loan amount as monthly interest, with the annual interest rate reaching up to 120 per cent, which is well above the legal limit of 60 per cent.

"Passports and employment contracts would be returned to the debtors if they could settle their loan by making a one-off payment," he said.

He said the syndicate could pocket as much as HK$12 million in profit through such illegal loans.

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Police identified the syndicate in January and launched a probe to identity the ringleaders and members.

Chan said initial investigations showed the syndicate was controlled by a Hong Kong couple aged 49 and 50 who recruited their own helper and other Filipino domestic helpers as assistants to find borrowers and expand the business.

After a two-month probe, officers from the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau swooped into action and arrested the couple and eight Filipino women aged from 34 to 58 in a series of raids across the city on Sunday and Monday.

The eight Filipino women included the couple's domestic helper, according to police.

Police said their bank accounts were used to collect interest and payments from borrowers.

Officers seized HK$106,000 and 242 passports along with a large number of employment contracts, bank documents, debit notes and bank receipts.

The superintendent said it was possible further arrests would be made as investigations continued.

Under the Money Lenders Ordinance, lending money above the annual interest rate of 60 per cent carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a HK$5 million fine.

Police said the operation was part of a six-month crackdown against triads and organised crime in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong ahead of the visit by state leaders.

President Xi Jinping is expected to visit Hong Kong in late June and early July to mark the 20th anniversary of the city's return to China.