Thirty-six organisations from the social welfare sector have come out in support of a Hong Kong church that had its only bank account frozen by police investigating possible money laundering and fraud.
Organisations ranging from concern groups to labour unions called for the Good Neighbour North District Church’s bank account with HSBC to be unfrozen, so it could sustain social services to the underprivileged, especially the city’s homeless.Supporters of the church believed the decision to freeze the accounts was politically motivated, after a group of its volunteers, dubbed Protect the Children, had tried to mediate between protesters and police during last year’s civil unrest.
“We call for the bank account to be restored so that services for the underprivileged can be continued,” the organisations said in a statement.
Lau Ka-tung, a social worker and an employee with the church, told the Post its three hostels faced temporary closure if the bank account remained frozen.
“There are 100 people involved in these hostel services, including the homeless, staff and social workers,” he said. “Since all the funds are locked in the HSBC account, we can’t make any payments such as paying salaries.”
He said the church was looking for a lawyer to help them unfreeze the account.
The church’s director and company secretary, pastor Roy Chan Hoi-hing and his wife, both wanted for questioning by Hong Kong police, were “considering their next move”, Lau said. The pair are in Britain on sabbatical.
Officers on Monday instructed HSBC to block five bank accounts – belonging to the church, Chan, his wife and other parties – as they investigated suspected money laundering and conspiracy to defraud in connection with money received in donations through crowdfunding.
According to police, the church received HK$27 million in donations between June last year and September this year, but only publicly announced that HK$8.9 million had been raised.
The use of funds were also found to have deviated from the church’s original plans, police said.
Two people associated with the church, aged 24 and 37, were arrested on Tuesday in relation to the allegations and subsequently released on bail. The younger suspect was a former director of the church, while the other was an existing employee.
Duncan Ho Dik-hong, a barrister and member of the Progressive Lawyers Group, said the church could seek a judicial review against the decision to freeze the account, but legal proceedings could take months.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city’s de facto central bank, said banks had to comply with orders from law enforcement agencies to freeze funds or property related to local or overseas criminal investigations.
(Article originally appear in South China Morning Post on 10th December, 2020)