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Two staff members of unlicensed employment agencies imprisoned for engaging in unfair trade practices and money laundering

22 September 2022


Two female staff members of unlicensed employment agencies were sentenced to imprisonment of 28 months and 30 months respectively at the District Court today (September 22) after earlier conviction for contravening the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (TDO), the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance (OSCO) and the Immigration Ordinance respectively.

The first defendant of the case is a 44-year-old Filipino domestic helper. She was sentenced to 28 months' imprisonment for engaging in wrongly accepting payment, applying false trade descriptions, dealing with property known or reasonably believed to represent proceeds of an indictable offence (commonly known as money laundering) and breaching conditions of stay. The other defendant is a 57-year-old local woman who was sentenced to 30 months' imprisonment for engaging in wrongly accepting payment and money laundering. She was also ordered by the court to pay compensation of about $6,000 to the victim.

This is the first unfair trade practice case with sentencing to imprisonment involving the employment agency industry since the TDO was amended in July 2013. This is also the first time that an offender of unfair trade practice has been prosecuted for money laundering at the same time.

Hong Kong Customs received information alleging that the two staff members involved, in the course of providing employment agency services, had falsely claimed to seven customers that their two employment agencies in Kwun Tong and To Kwa Wan were licensed. They also guaranteed that the customers could arrange for their relatives and friends to work in Hong Kong or Macao. However, no relevant services were provided and no refunds were arranged after they had received about $80,000 in agency fees from the customers. Also, the company involved was not a licensed employment agency.

Moreover, it was revealed that the two staff members had also dealt with crime proceeds involving about $740,000 in total through different ways such as cash deposits and bank transfer between 2018 and 2019.

Customs welcomes the sentences, which have achieved a considerable deterrent effect with the imprisonment sentences reflecting the seriousness of the offences. Customs will continue to combat unfair trade practices with a view to protecting consumer interests. Traders must comply with the requirements of the TDO while consumers should procure services from reputable shops.

Under the TDO, if any trader at the time of acceptance of payment intends not to supply the product or intends to supply a materially different product, or if there are no reasonable grounds for believing that the trader will be able to supply the product within a specified or reasonable period, the trader commits an offence of wrongly accepting payment under the Ordinance. Also, any trader who applies a false trade description to a service supplied to a consumer commits an offence. The maximum penalty upon conviction for each above-mentioned offence is a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for five years.

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 violation of the TDO and money laundering activities to Customs' 24-hour hotline 2545 6182 or its dedicated crime-reporting email account (crimereport@customs.gov.hk).

Ends/Thursday, September 22, 2022

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