Law Commission notes violent methods of gambling debt collection
by Christine Duhaime, BA, JD, Certified Financial Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Law Specialist
According to a Consultation Paper prepared by the Law Reform Commission of Hong Kong, debt collection in Hong Kong is a significant and violent problem, mostly arising from gambling debts incurred locally and in Macau. Loan sharks in Macau and Hong Kong account for 21.4% of the debt collection criminal complaints to police, the largest type of complaint filed.
The Law Reform Commission looked at police reports and judicial decisions involving debt collection tactics, noting both the involvement of Triads in many cases and the large extent to which torts (false imprisonment, assault, defamation) or serious crimes (murder, attempted murder, extortion, criminal interest rates) were committed in the debt collection process.
A synopsis below of some of the cases studied by the Law Reform Commission, and several subsequent ones, shed light on the violent nature of the collection of gambling debts in Hong Kong:
- The Queen v. Chan, CACC 311/1983 – Loan sharks burned victim with cigarettes during two day period to collect gambling debt.
- A man from Hong Kong, Tong King-yiu, borrowed money from a loan shark in Macau to gamble.
- When he failed to repay the loan, the loan shark took steps to physically pressure him into paying. Three men employed by the loan shark, Chan, Yau-hang, Ho Lai-man and Ho Su-kun, seized Mr. Tong in Kowloon, brought him to a hotel room and, over the course of a few days, beat him up and burned him with cigarettes.
- The Queen v. Chan, 231/1994 – Loan sharks attempted to collect an extra HK$15,000 from gambler for wages and expenses incurred by them to collect his gambling debt.
- A man from Hong Kong, Wong Chi-keung, borrowed money from a loan shark in Macau to repay a gambling debt.
- When he failed to repay the loan, he was forcibly detained and taken to a karaoke bar. While there, he was forced to make phone calls to raise funds to repay the debt.
- Mr. Wong owed $25,000 and was told he had to raise HK$40,000 to be set free, the extra HK$15,000 was to pay the wages and expenses of the men forcibly confining him for their time in collecting the debt for their employer.
- HKSAR v. Wong Fuk Tak, CACC 249/1999 – Triads informed debtors that they were Triads, a criminal offence in Hong Kong.
- In April 1999, sixteen men belonging to the Wo Hop Triads in Hong Kong, were convicted for being members of a prohibited gang and criminal activities related to that membership.
- Among the many offences committed, murder, a Triad explained to an undercover police officer that watching a person being chopped from the head by a young Triad was “so exciting…like shooting a movie.”
- When it was suggested at a Triad meeting that the young Triad who had committed murder be placed in hiding, the Triads objected, saying it was better for the story of how they killed someone by hacking to get out.
- Another offence for which they were convicted related to hacking up a group of 16-year-old boys “like meat” with knives.
- Among other things, the Triads were convicted of disclosing their membership in the Wo Hop. Under Hong Kong law, it is a criminal offence to say you are a member of a Triad or to say you are a Triad manager, a testiment to the fear they invoke. Whether one is a member of a Triad is irrelevant for the offence. Claiming to be a Triad officer carries a fine of HK$1 million on conviction and a term of imprisonment of up to 15 years.
- Debt collectors in Hong Kong often claim to be Triads in order to more easily extract payment.
- HKSAR v. Wong Ka-fat, DCCC 937/2008 – Triads forced a tourist to incur HK$300,000 gambling debt at Macau casinos then attempted to collect HK$650,000 from his family under threats of violence.
- A 20-year old student visited the Wynn Casino in Macau and while there, was approached by junket operators and was convinced to go with them to gamble at the Casino Lisbon.
- At the Casino Lisbon, the student was coerced into giving details about his family, then taken to a VIP Room to gamble on the promise of free tickets to show and hotel stays.
- He was given “mud chips” also known as "rolling chips" worth HK$10,000 each and one of the promoters gambled HK$30,000 of the chips for the student and lost. The student was not allowed to leave or stop gambling.
- He was taken to another casino in Macau where the junket operators continued to place bets for him, allegedly losing HK$300,000. At that point, he was taken to a restaurant and asked to sign an IOU for HK$650,000. He was detained for approximately 12 hours and finally dropped off at the Macau ferry and escorted back to Hong Kong.
- He was brought to an ATM and instructed to take out as much as he could, which was HK$20,000. His escorts brought him home and, once there, threatened his mother if she did not pay them HK$650,000. When she refused, they threatened to take her son away.
- Eventually, she called the police and notwithstanding the police investigation, the junket operator called other family members, including his elderly grandmother, to collect the alleged HK$650,000 in debt, threatening to harm them if they did not pay. Eventually, the debt collectors were arrested.
- As noted by the Court of Hong Kong, this was part of a well-known Triad “scam” perpetrated on visitors to Macau wherein they are promised numerous free casino and hotel benefits for minimal gambling, then effectively held against their will while the loan sharks gamble for them with mud chips, and run up enormous fictional debts. The gambler is told he has incurred huge gambling losses and is forced to repay fictional debts to organized crime.
- HKSAR v. See Wah Lun, CACC 370/2009 – Triads plotted to dismember and kill a Macau casino chip dealer for allowing HK$100 million casino win.
- Several Triads were convicted of disclosing membership in the Triads, being members of Triads and several other criminal offences including attempted murder. During their trial, evidence emerged of their methods for collecting gambling debts from Macau.
- In one debt collection file, the Triads plotted to kidnap Wong Kam Ming, bring him to a secret hiding place and chop off his arms and legs before killing him.
- Mr. Wong was a mud chip dealer at a Macau casino and he had allowed a person to win HK$100 million gambling at a VIP Room, when the policy was that mud chip dealers were required to ensure players lost. Mr. Wong therefore owed the Triads for the amount the casino had to pay in winnings. The alleged Triad boss, Cheung Chi Tai, allegedly had an interest in the operation of that casino.
- The gambler who won HK$100 million was accused of cheating – his house was set on fire and he was attacked numerous times.
- Among the evidence seized at the local Triad office were guns, beef knives, Japanese dagger, balaclavas, handcuffs, extra licence plates, martial arts weapons and notebooks containing particulars of the family members of people who owed debts.
- A witness who testified at the trial was allowed to testify remotely because he was a “witness in fear”, 在恐懼中的證人, fearful for his life for testifying against members of the Triads. The concept of 在恐懼中的證人 is permitted under Hong Kong law to allow for evidence in cases against organized crime.
It may not be as exciting to gamble in Las Vegas, but it appears to be much safer.