Hong Kong customs arrests four for $113 million crypto money laundering

Law enforcement at the Hong Kong customs has arrested four suspects for allegedly laundering criminal proceeds through cryptocurrency in its first such crackdown. 

The Hong Kong customs said the alleged syndicate laundered illegal funds totaling to HK$1.2 billion ($150 million) with a majority of them through Tether's USDT, South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.

According Mark Woo Wai-kwan, senior superintendent of the Hong Kong customs’ syndicate crimes investigation bureau, the laundering operations lasted for 15 months through shell companies via 40 USDT wallets.

“Our investigation revealed that the syndicate laundered about HK$880 million through the cryptocurrency between February 2020 and May 2021,” Woo was quoted as saying in the report. The remaining funds were believed to be laundered through conventional methods.

The customs arrested a ringleader, aged at 33, as well as three other local men, aged 24 to 36, last Thursday. The report cited an anonymous law enforcement officer that the suspects charged their criminal clients a commission between three to five percent. The crackdown of the case involving crypto assets was the first of its kind in the city, according to Woo. 

The officer said the investigation showed the funds were further sent to bank accounts belonging to individuals and companies in Hong Kong, mainland China and Singapore. 

While they are still probing into the origin of the laundered funds, the involvement of cryptocurrency makes it difficult to trace down the activities, Woo said.

But the report added that the latest case "paled in comparison" to the largest money laundering crackdown in Hong Kong in 2012 involving HK$13.1 billion, or worth $1.6 billion. 

The Block reported earlier this year that the increasing number of convictions in mainland China since Q4 last year could also give a glimpse into the wide use of USDT in money laundering activities inside China.