OFW jailed for 28 months for 3 offenses including illegal job offering; employment agency owner for money laundering

Two female staff members of unlicensed employment agencies were sentenced to imprisonment of 28 months and 30 months respectively by District Judge Kathy Cheung at the District Court today (September 22) after an earlier conviction for contravening the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (TDO), the Organized and Serious Crimes Ordinance (OSCO), and the Immigration Ordinance respectively.

Marijane Biscocho, a 45 year-old overseas Filipino domestic worker (OFW), sentenced to 28 months was convicted of three charges, comprising 3 categories, namely offenses under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, the offense of breach of condition of stay, and money laundering offenses.

Biscocho was convicted after trial of 14 counts of engaging in a commercial practice that constitutes wrongly accepting payment for a product, 2 counts of applying a false trade description to a service supplied or offered to be supplied to a consumer, and 1 count of breach of condition of stay, and 2 counts of money laundering.

During the mitigation, Biscocho’s defense lawyer Mr. Phil Chau asked Judge Cheung for a modest reduction of jail time for his client, saying that the case was hanging for two to three years resulting in Biscocho’s loss of her employment and means to earn money for her family. Biscocho, married with two sons, came to Hong Kong in 1998 to work as a domestic worker. She worked for 18 years with the same employer and earned HK4,300 before her arrest.

The owner of the employment agency, 57-year-old local woman Lennis Embrahim, was sentenced to 30 months imprisonment for wrongly accepting payment and money laundering. She was also ordered by the court to pay compensation of about $6,000 to the victim. She was convicted after trial of one count of money laundering. She was responsible for the management of two companies, namely WHT Consultant Company (“WHT”) and Remy Consultant Company (“Remy”). WHT and Remy have no licensed employment agencies.

Both females were involved in a scam offering jobs to Filipino domestic workers for their relatives to work in Hong Kong or Macau as waiters, and factory workers. Victims paid money but no employment was provided and no refund was made. It is apparent that when both received payments from the victims, they knew that they could not and would not provide the employment agency service for obtaining jobs for the applicants.

This is the first unfair trade practice case with sentencing to imprisonment involving the employment agency industry since the TDO was amended in July 2013. This is also the first time that an offender of unfair trade practice has been prosecuted for money laundering at the same time as stated in the press release issued today by the Government.

Hong Kong Customs received information alleging that the two staff members involved, in the course of providing employment agency services, had falsely claimed to seven customers that their two employment agencies in Kwun Tong and To Kwa Wan were licensed. They also guaranteed that the customers could arrange for their relatives and friends to work in Hong Kong or Macao. However, no relevant services were provided and no refunds were arranged after they had received about $80,000 in agency fees from the customers. Also, the company involved was not a licensed employment agency.

Moreover, it was revealed that the two staff members had also dealt with crime proceeds involving about $740,000 in total through different ways such as cash deposits and bank transfers between 2018 and 2019.

Customs welcomes the sentences, which have achieved a considerable deterrent effect with the imprisonment sentences reflecting the seriousness of the offenses. Customs will continue to combat unfair trade practices with a view to protecting consumer interests. Traders must comply with the requirements of the TDO while consumers should procure services from reputable shops.

Under the TDO, if any trader at the time of acceptance of payment intends not to supply the product or wants to supply a materially different product, or if there are no reasonable grounds for believing that the trader will be able to supply the product within a specified or reasonable period, the trader commits an offense of wrongly accepting payment under the Ordinance. Also, any trader who applies a false trade description to a service supplied to a consumer commits an offense. The maximum penalty upon conviction for each above-mentioned offense is a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for five years.

Under the OSCO, a person commits an offense if he or she deals with any property knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that such property in whole or in part directly or indirectly represents any person’s proceeds of an indictable offense. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $5 million and imprisonment for 14 years while the crime proceeds are also subject to confiscation.

Members of the public may report any suspected violation of the TDO and money laundering activities to Customs’ 24-hour hotline 2545 6182 or its dedicated crime-reporting email account (crimereport@customs.gov.hk).