On 20 April 2017, 30-year-old Hong Kong national Ka Sing Lai was sentenced in the District Court at Perth to 10 years’ imprisonment after pleading guilty to criminal charges arising from his role in a large-scale international money operation. This money laundering operation involved a criminal syndicate, based in Hong Kong, which laundered more than $29 million in proceeds of crime in Australia.
Sydney-based Lai was a trusted and integral part of the money laundering syndicate. He pleaded guilty to having facilitated the laundering of $5.9 million.
Having previously travelled between Hong Kong and Australia on different passports in different names, Lai came to Australia on 13 June 2015. Between then and 10 December 2015, Lai travelled from Sydney to Perth on 10 occasions to deal with the proceeds of crime for the Hong Kong-based syndicate. During this time, Lai received money on 13 occasions and would collect up to $500,000 in cash at a time. He would then ferry depositors to a diverse range of bank and ATM located around Perth so they could deposit sums into a variety of nominated accounts registered as belonging to newly established Australian companies, directors of which were Hong Kong nationals located overseas.
Lai and the depositors would visit as many as 10 bank branches on any one day. A total of 163 bank transactions were made. The money was ultimately transferred offshore.
When Lai was arrested in Perth in December 2015, police found more than $230,000 cash in his rental car, six mobile phones and several debit cards.
It was AUSTRAC which first identified that this Hong Kong syndicate was laundering significant amounts of cash into the accounts of otherwise unknown companies in both Western Australia and New South Wales. The successful prosecution of Lai by the CDPP followed a joint investigation by the Australian Federal Police, AUSTRAC, Western Australia Police and Australia Border Force. This investigation, known as Operation Churchill, resulted in 10 arrests and numerous successful prosecutions.
After a guilty plea, on 20 April 2017, Ka Sing Lai was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment backdated to 14 December 2015 with a non-parole period of 6 years, in relation to:
- 1 count of dealing with money that was and believed to be proceeds of crime, valued at more than 1 million dollars contrary to section 400.3(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).
Judge Goetze said ‘What was going on here is large-scale criminal money laundering in which you were an important cog in the wheel and you played an integral role as facilitator in arranging various deposits which then enabled other people to move cash offshore’.
Judge Goetze said Lai’s role was ‘pivotal’ and that he was ‘entrusted with significant amounts of money and information’ and that he was ‘in direct contact with each person who gave money to you’.
As such, he said there was ‘a necessary general deterrent requirement’ to stop Lai and others from attempting to launder money. He said money laundering was ‘incredibly hard to detect’ and ‘organised crime derives money at the expense of the community in one way or the other. Usually that involves some hard suffering somewhere and the primary motive of organised crime is profit …’