An 18-year-old man who police said received HK$48,000 (S$8,600) from activists raising money for anti-government protesters facing Hong Kong’s justice system has been arrested on suspicion of money laundering and drug trafficking, the force announced on Wednesday.
An insider said officers believed the young man used his bank account to collect the cash on behalf of his friend, who was arrested for a protest-related offence last year.
Police said in December they suspected that dozens of teenagers were each paid thousands of Hong Kong dollars through the online fundraising platform Spark Alliance HK to join anti-government demonstrations sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
The group, which was set up after the Mong Kok riot in 2016 to help arrested and jailed activists, raised about HK$80 million in the second quarter of last year for those who met the same fate in the protests that broke out last summer June.
Officers started investigating the shell company behind the crowdfunding campaign after finding its financial transactions suspicious, including large outlays on personal insurance.
Police believed the funds were used for personal gain and other potentially illegal activities, such as rewarding young people financially for joining demonstrations, many of which descended into violence.
In December, police arrested four people – three men and a woman – for money laundering.
One of the suspects, a 50-year-old man listed as the company director, was the only beneficiary of personal insurance products bought with the donations.
While analysing the shell company’s financial activities, police said they discovered transfers to an 18-year-old’s bank account.
According to police, the unemployed teenager received HK$48,000 over the period between the end of October and November last year.
After further investigation, police arrested the 18-year-old man at Nam Shan Estate in Shek Kip Mei on Tuesday evening.
He has been accused of selling illegal drugs to a man and two women aged between 26 and 35, who were arrested for possession.
During the operation, officers said they seized HK$8,000 worth of illegal drugs including ketamine, cocaine and cannabis.
Laying out the force’s reasons for making the money laundering arrest, Superintendent Chan Wai-Kei of the narcotics bureau said: “The 18-year-old arrested man was jobless. We found that from the end of October to the end of November last year, he had received HK$48,000 from a shell company…
“This was something never seen in his account and he had no relation with this shell company, so we have reasons to believe that these are crime proceeds.”
Superintendent Raymond Chou, of the narcotics bureau, said the suspect was likely to be prosecuted for trafficking dangerous drugs.
He said police would investigate whether anyone else was behind the operation and the source of the drugs. Chou said the investigation was continuing and further arrests were possible.
The three held for drug possession were released on bail pending further investigation.
Spark Alliance is the second-largest crowdfunding platform for the Hong Kong protests. The largest is 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, whose founders include former lawmaker Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, Canto-pop singer Denise Ho Wan-sze, and retired cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun.
That fund said it had raised HK$97.1 million, as of November 30, helping 6,949 people by spending HK$23.3 million mostly on their economic, legal and medical needs.
Vehement opposition to proposed changes to Hong Kong’s extradition laws triggered the outbreak of the protests last June, but soon developed into a wider anti-government movement focused on democratic reforms and police accountability.
The demonstrations have regularly plunged into violence, with police and radicals trading tear gas and petrol bombs.
This article was first published in the South China Morning Post.