Hong Kong woman jailed for 10 years for laundering $877 million

A Hong Kong public housing tenant was jailed for 10 years on Tuesday for laundering more than HK$6.8 billion ($877 million) through nine banks, just two months after a Chinese man was imprisoned in the Asian financial centre's biggest such case.

Lam Mei-ling, 61, laundered the money between 2002 and 2005 with about 39,500 bank transfers, the Court of First Instance heard.

The defendant said she made the transfers on behalf of an unidentified woman, from her home town in Dongguan in southern China's Guangdong province near Hong Kong, who used to babysit her daughter before becoming a factory owner.

Lam, who pleaded not guilty, had testified that she was illiterate and had been told to transfer the money to other mainland factory owners.

The money was laundered through Standard Chartered, Hang Seng Bank, Chiyu Bank, National Commercial Bank, Hua Chiao Commercial Bank, Dao Heng Bank, First Commercial Bank, Hua Nan Bank and Bank of East Asia, local media reported, citing court documents.

Lam received occasional monthly payments of around HK$4,500 for laundering the money, the Court of First Instance heard.

Justice Andrew Chan said that although the defendant was not the mastermind, she was not unaware of what she was doing.

Lam was arrested in 2008 after a citizen of the Netherlands filed a fraud complaint related to HK$300,000 that resulted in two of her bank accounts being investigated and the discovery of the laundering, local media said.

As a free financial centre, Hong Kong has become a popular place for Chinese to set up companies and conduct business, in some cases to obscure their assets through money-laundering.

In January, a 22-year-old delivery man from Guangdong province was jailed for 10 and a half years for laundering HK$13.1 billion ($1.7 billion) between August 2009 and April 2010.

Luo Juncheng laundered about HK$50 million a day through a corporate account set up with Chiyu Banking Corp.

Last year, the Joint Financial Intelligence Unit - a specialist police and anti-money laundering group - received 23,282 reports of suspicious transactions, up 45 percent from 16,062 cases reported in 2009.

($1 = HK$7.76)

(Reporting by Grace Li; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree)