Police arrested a Hong Kong couple accused of engaging in a loan-shark operation and hiring domestic helpers from the Philippines to work for their underground bank.
The Organized Crime and Triad Bureau said it launched an investigation in January after receiving a tip-off that a 50-year-old man and his wife, 49, had asked their Filipino maid to recruit fellow domestic helpers to work as agents and offer loans to compatriots who need money, Apple Daily reports, citing OCTB Superintendent Chan Hon-ming.
The couple, along with eight Filipino maids who were working for them, were arrested in Mong Kok and several other locations on Monday.
The bureau also seized from the suspects 242 passports, employment contracts, loan receipts, bank documents and more than HK$100,000 in cash.
Investigation showed that the underground bank operated by the couple made loans to about 1,200 Filipino maids from March to October last year, with each of them borrowing between HK$4,000 and HK$15,000.
As the annual interest rate on the loans totaling about HK$10 million was as high as 120 percent, it was estimated that the couple made a profit of more than HK$12 million during the eight-month period.
The operation was exposed after some borrowers found their passports and employment contracts used as collaterals for the loans were “reused” by the agents to borrow more money from the couple, thereby increasing the amounts of their debts.
They then turned to the Philippine Consulate General for help, leading to the arrest of the suspects.
Cheung Kit-man, chairman of the Hong Kong Employment Agencies Association, told Ming Pao Daily that the problem about loan sharks victimizing foreign maids is a chronic one and has been aggravated by the entry of more maids into the city.
Many foreign maids have been saddled with debt because they have to pay their agents for their recruitment fees and airfares, Cheung said.
He said maids usually borrow money for two reasons: to send back to their families for emergency assistance, and to buy phones and other expensive items before they are able to save.
While some of them may end up being in deep financial trouble as their debts increase, employers cannot use that as a reason to sack them as owing debt is regarded as a personal problem, Cheung said.
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