Two principal money launderers of a transnational drug trafficking and money laundering syndicate finally pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy early this month here in Hong Kong after intensive investigation by the police forces in China and Canada.
"It is a demonstration of effective and efficient cooperation between the Hong Kong police and overseas law enforcement agencies in the global fight against drug trafficking and money laundering.
"It also highlights the importance of cooperation and intelligence exchange between the Hong Kong police and law enforcement agencies all over the world in targeting transnational criminal enterprises," Offbeat, the latest edition of the Hong Kong Police Force's internal staff newsletter commented.
The two money launders had been active in Canada, China and China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), but were recently sentenced to 80 months' and 60 months' imprisonment each. Restrained assets of the syndicate to the value of 10.5 million Hong Kong dollars (1.3 million US dollars) were also confiscated by the court.
The officer in charge of the case, Detective Senior Inspector Wong Chi Kwong of the Hong Kong Police Force, said even though police talents from various places were pooled together, investigation was no easy matter.
"The involvement of a number of jurisdictions, including Canada, the United States, Thailand, Australia and China, and the fact that the drug trafficking activities did not actually take place in Hong Kong made it very difficult for the prosecution to prove that the accused did know full well that the proceeds were from drug trafficking or an indictable offense. It became even more difficult to prepare overseas sourced evidence into a form admissible in a Hong Kong court," he said.
Detective Marco Chan of the Hong Kong Police Force revealed that the case actually involved more than 10 suspects, including a handful of overseas citizens. Each of them operated several bank accounts -- some of them had more than 10.
"The overall transactions involved amounted to several billion Hong Kong dollars," he said, adding "Bank documents, which included opening mandates, bank statements and transfer vouchers, formed a stack taller than myself."
But the major difficulty lied in having to build up a significant body of circumstantial evidence against the suspects, despite the fact that the police knew the assets were actually the proceeds of indictable offenses and drug trafficking.
In October 1998, one of the convicted, a cash courier for the syndicate, attempted to bring a large sum of Canadian dollars into Hong Kong for laundering. Upon intelligence exchange with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), he was intercepted at Chek Lap Kok International Airport in Hong Kong.
Such led to the Hong Kong police invoking the provision "Detention of Certain Seized Property" of Drug Trafficking Ordinance (Recovery of Proceeds)" for the first time here.
Given that the evidence from Canada and the United States was critical for the prosecution case in Hong Kong, a team of four officers from the Narcotics Bureau Financial Investigations Section of the investigation had to fly to Vancover, Toronto and New York in the course of the investigation to liase with the RCMP, officers of the Canadian Customs, other law enforcement agencies, as well as civilians.
Offbeat said much success was achieved through tremendous support and assistance from the RCMP fellows and the FBI in New York.
Given all the accused were remanded in jail, the fight against time became crucial in turning the overseas evidence into an admissible form when the team returned to Hong Kong.
Eventually, the Hong Kong Police won the battle against the syndicate.
The Hong Kong Canadian Consulate RCMP Assistant Liaison Officer, Gary Halverson, said the cracking of the case is a perfect example of how foreign law enforcement agencies can produce very successful outcomes in major investigations.
"We are also very pleased to assist the Hong Kong Police Force in their part of this investigation," he said.
(Xinhua News Agency November 28, 2002)