3 Filipino call center employees on ‘free Hong Kong tour’ sentenced to five months in prison

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Eastern Magistrates' Courts in Sai Wan Ho

THREE call center employees from the Philippines were sentenced to five months in prison this morning (February 18) after their “free Hong Kong tour” turned out to be a scam to open bank accounts using forged documents.

The three defendants—Enrique Vargas, 30, a customer service representative; Ryan S. Illustrisimo, 30, an administrative assistant; and Maureen M. Gutierrez, 23, an assistant supervisor—each pleaded guilty to two counts of “using a false instrument” at the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts in Sai Wan Ho.

“You are all convicted of the charge that you’re facing,” Magistrate Lam Tsz-kan told the defendants.

They were supposed to be jailed for six months for each charge but, because of their guilty plea, the judge reduced their sentence to a total of five months.

The prosecution said the defendants opened bank accounts at the Bank of China branch in Admiralty on October 10 and at a Standard Chartered Bank branch in Central on October 9.

The Filipinos admitted to using fake documents showing that they were employees of Wharf Holdings, one of Hong Kong’s biggest conglomerates.

They also submitted forged documents showing addresses in Hong Kong and the Philippines. The three defendants successfully opened the accounts but bank officials later became suspicious and they were arrested when they returned to the Bank of China branch on October 12.

The defendants’ lawyer said her clients were enticed to “go on a free tour of Hong Kong,” with free board and lodging and airline tickets.

“(Vargas) is the breadwinner of his family…He came to Hong Kong because…on social media, he found out that somebody was offering free tickets and free accommodation and so he came to HK for free, on the condition that he open a free account,” the lawyer said.

“Out of greediness, he accepted the offer. He did not know the offense was so serious. He is very remorseful,” she added.

Police investigators suspect that the bank accounts were going to be used for money laundering activities but the defendants’ lawyer said they did not know anything except the offer of a free Hong Kong tour.

“They don’t know anything else. They just came here for the free trip. They did not know each other before coming here. They came to Hong Kong for the free tickets and free trip,” she added.

Under Hong Kong law, the charge of “using a false instrument” carries a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment.

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