23 December 2016
The Immigration Department (ImmD), working with the Guangdong Provincial Public Security Department, the Shenzhen Municipal Public Security Bureau and the Shenzhen General Station of Exit and Entry Frontier Inspection, smashed a human smuggling syndicate in a joint operation codenamed "Firenet" conducted in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong in January 2015 and two Hong Kong resident masterminds, a 44-year-old Vietnamese female Hong Kong resident and her ex-husband, a 57-year-old male Hong Kong resident, were successfully apprehended. Following months of in-depth investigation, the two masterminds pleaded guilty to the charge of money laundering, while the female mastermind also pleaded guilty to the charge of being in possession of forged Hong Kong identity cards. The male and female masterminds were convicted at the District Court and were sentenced today (December 23) to 24 and 32 months' imprisonment respectively.
In addition, a total of 21 persons comprising 11 males and 10 females aged 23 to 61, comprising eight Hong Kong residents, 12 Vietnamese and one Mainland resident were also arrested for various offences during the operation, including seeking illegal entry into Hong Kong and remaining in Hong Kong without the authority of the Director of Immigration, taking up unapproved employment, using and being in possession of forged Hong Kong identity cards and employing persons not lawfully employable. Among them, nine were subsequently convicted and were given sentences ranging from a fine of $2,000 to 15 months' imprisonment.
The syndicate members provided a "one-stop service" to Vietnamese nationals who intended to seek illegal entry into Hong Kong for illegal employment. The Vietnamese, after entering Dongxing, Guangxi, from Mong Cai, Vietnam, proceeded to Shenzhen by coach. After a short stay in Shenzhen, they were arranged by syndicate members to hide under Hong Kong-bound container trucks in the early morning for smuggling into Hong Kong via Lok Ma Chau Control Point while their luggage was passed to the syndicate members for taking to a mastermind's abode in Hong Kong. After successfully entering Hong Kong, the syndicate members provided the Vietnamese not only with hiding places, but also forged Hong Kong identity cards in order to help them conceal their illegal immigrant status for seeking employment in Hong Kong. Furthermore, it was also detected that there were large amounts of deposits in the savings accounts of the male mastermind even though he was only a low-skilled worker. Upon inquiry, he admitted his bank accounts were in fact controlled by the female mastermind and the money concerned was obtained as a result of arranging for the smuggling of Vietnamese into Hong Kong.
The ImmD believes that the human smuggling syndicate was completely smashed in the joint operation. The department will continue to combat all kinds of immigration offences and work closely with local and Mainland law enforcement agencies in a bid to step up co-operation on interception, investigation, intelligence exchange and enforcement, with a view to cracking down on the smuggling of illegal immigrants and illegal activities organised by syndicates.
Under the laws of Hong Kong, it is an offence to arrange and assist the passage to Hong Kong of a person who is an unauthorised entrant. Offenders are liable to prosecution and upon conviction to a maximum fine of $5 million and imprisonment for 14 years. A person using or possessing a forged Hong Kong identity card also commits an offence. Offenders are liable to prosecution and upon conviction to a maximum fine of $100,000 and imprisonment for 10 years. In addition, a person commits an offence if, knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe any property in whole or in part directly or indirectly represents any proceeds of an indictable offence, he or she deals with that property. Offenders shall be liable for money laundering, and the maximum penalty for this offence is a maximum fine of $5 million and imprisonment for 14 years.
The ImmD reiterated that it is also a serious offence to employ people who are not lawfully employable. The maximum penalty is imprisonment for three years and a fine of $350,000. The High Court has laid down sentencing guidelines that the employer of an illegal worker should be given an immediate custodial sentence. According to the court sentencing, employers must take all practicable steps to determine whether a person is lawfully employable prior to employment. Apart from inspecting a prospective employee's identity card, the employer has the explicit duty to make enquiries regarding the person and ensure that the answers would not cast any reasonable doubt concerning the lawful employability of the person. The court will not accept failure to do so as a defence in proceedings. It is also an offence if an employer fails to inspect the job seeker's valid travel document if the job seeker does not have a Hong Kong permanent identity card. The maximum penalty for failing to inspect such a document is imprisonment for one year and a fine of $150,000.