Pinay acquitted in online BF scam case

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Kowloon City Courts

SHE shed tears and thanked those who helped her prove her innocence of three counts of “conspiracy to deal with property known or believed to represent proceeds of indictable offense” after receiving money to her bank account from her online boyfriend.

After the verdict was issued by Kowloon City Courts Magistrate Veronica Heung Shuk-han on May 5, R. Tam, a Filipino working in a hotel, wiped tears from her eyes and smiled to and hugged
the other Filipinos present in court.

“I am of clear mind now,” she was heard saying in Filipino after the magistrate issued the verdict.

Judge Heung said the prosecution failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Tam was guilty of the offenses. The magistrate noted the evidence given by Tam in court was consistent with what she said during the video recording interviews she had with the police.

Judge Heung said she “could not say for sure” that Tam had suspected or believed the funds deposited into her account by Steve Michael, her chatmate who became her internet boyfriend, were proceeds of indictable offense.

Tam’s duty lawyer was also heard telling the Filipina that the “online boyfriend scam” was common and that “this happens every day”. The Filipina assured the lawyer that it was the first time she
tried an online romance but would remain clear-headed now.

The court heard on Mar. 21-23 how Tam, who works in a hotel here in Hong Kong, received money from Michael, who identified himself as a man working in a construction company in London, through her Public Bank account, and deposited it to a HSBC account.

Tam and a Chinese woman, S. S-y. Hui, were charged with three counts of “conspiracy to deal with property known or believed to represent proceeds of indictable offense.”

Tam, who married a Hong Kong resident who passed away a few years ago,” met Michael online in January 2014, and started an “internet relationship” with him a month later.

In March 2014, her boyfriend sent her $350,000. She then transferred $347,000 to an HSBC account.

“I believed him. I loved him and he loved me. We were in a relationship, and I trusted him and he trusted me,” Tam said when asked by the prosecutor why she agreed to do what the man she only met some two months before asked her to do.

Tam told the court her account received the money on March 26, 2014, and $3,000 was given to her by Michael after she said she needed financial assistance as life was difficult.

The prosecution charged Tam conspired with Michael to launder proceeds of illegal or criminal activities. Tam, however, said Michael told her the money came from “project-related” activities.

The Filipina, who has a grown son and daughter-in-law in the Philippines and a granddaughter, said she and Michael only communicated through online chatting.

Michael, she said, told her he could not deposit the money to his own account, but as his “wife” she should help him and handle all these transactions.

As a housekeeping staff in a hotel, Tam  said she would tell Michael that she would be tired, and he would re-assure her that they would be putting up a business in the Philippines and Hong Kong. He also promised her that he would be coming to Hong Kong in June 2014 so they could discuss their future together.

Tam said Michael introduced himself as a Caucasian man. However, on March 29, 2014, Tam found she could not check her ATM account, and messaged him that she “felt worried and she was scared”.

When she confided to her daughter-in-law in the Philippines about her ATM card, the latter told her that she might have been “scammed” by Michael.

On March 31, 2014, Tam was arrested by police.

The other defendant, Hui, however, was declared guilty of the offenses. Judge Heung noted inconsistencies between the Chinese woman’s evidence in court and her statement to the police given during video recorded interviews.

The judge said Hui had met “Ben” in person in Malaysia, remitted money to him, and had allowed him to use her bank account for various transactions.

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