Renewal of ‘collateral’ passports approved

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Philippine passports recovered by Hong Kong Police

FILIPINOS whose passports were held by the Hong Kong Police following a crackdown on a loan shark syndicate are now allowed to renew their passports, Philippine Consulate officials told Hong Kong News.

Vice Consul Fatima Guzman Quintin said the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila authorized the PCG to allow the renewal of passports that were made collateral by those involved in the loan scam.

“Pwede na silang mag-renew ng passports, instead of us giving them a travel document,” Guzman Quintin said.

“We ask them to file an affidavit [of loss]. Ang importante doon ang passports na nasa police, they (passport owners) can not say to us that they lost it. Naka-flag naman sa system that their passports were made as collateral,” she added.

In June, then Vice Consul Alex Vallespin said the PCG began issuing travel documents with seven-month validity.

Vallespin said these travel documents were given, among others, to those 242 Filipino domestic workers whose passports were seized by Hong Kong Police during a raid on a loan shark syndicate.

“Many of these passport owners have expiring visa, so previously we issued travel documents to them with three months of validity. So they go to the Immigration Department here in Hong Kong to renew their visa every two months, but now starting June we are issuing travel documents with seven months of validity so their visa renewal will be made every six months, instead of the previous every two months,” he said.

The longer validity for the travel document was approved by the DFA and was also coordinated with the Hong Kong Immigration, and Police Force.

In March, Hong Kong Police said persons behind the loan shark syndicate preying on Filipino domestic helpers were estimated to have profited at least $2 million from the illegal activity.

Chan Hon-ming, superintendent of Organized Crime and Triad Bureau of Hong Kong Police Force, said the syndicate gave loans to more than 1,200 borrowers between March and October 2016.  All the borrowers were Filipino domestic workers.

“These loans, ranged from $4,000 to $15,000, and were given out at a monthly interest rate of 10 percent and the borrowers all surrendered their passports and contracts for collateral.

“Over this short period of eight months, the syndicate had already given out a total of $10 million in cash and the estimated minimum return the syndicate earned from these loans amounted to $2 million,” Chan said.

Besides the eight Filipino women, whose ages ranged 34-58, a local couple, the alleged financiers, was also arrested.

“Our investigation revealed a local couple was in control and operating this syndicate by funding the loans. They used their own Filipino domestic helper as assistant to run the loan shark scheme and outreach to other Filipino domestic helpers for recruiting runners and borrowers in order to expand their ‘loan shark business’.

“These assistants and runners were responsible to give out the loans and collect debts whereas they would surrender the collateral to the couple until redemption was arranged,” Chan said.

The police, Chan said, started their operations in March. Arrests were made on Mar. 12 after passports were passed on by a Filipino female to the couple.

Raids were also conducted at various premises “including a rented service office used by the syndicate and the residence of the syndicate members”.

The syndicate members, the police said, were arrested for “Conspiracy to lend money at excessive interest rate” and “Conspiracy to blackmail”.

In January, Vallespin had disclosed the PCG will crack down on the passport for loan scheme whereby Filipinos here in Hong Kong pawn their passports so they could borrow money from creditors.

He added that they have uncovered the scheme whereby a domestic worker would pawn their passport, and when they need to renew it, they will take it back temporarily, and once they have processed their new passport, they would inform the PCG that they have lost their old one, instead of having it cancelled.

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