A Hong Kong police sergeant who admitted to defrauding the force’s credit union over HK$450,000 (US$58,000) in loans and placing bets with an illegal bookmaker on local horse races was told to expect a jail term, as a magistrate remanded him behind bars on Tuesday ahead of sentencing.
Eastern Court heard that Li Hung-fat falsely stated he had no outstanding loans with banks or other financial institutions when he sought to borrow money from the Hong Kong Police Credit Union on three occasions between June 2016 and June 2019. Li had allegedly concealed that he had debts of more than HK$1 million.
Li’s lawyer said the 51-year-old also placed illegal bets on horse races on March 11 and 18 last year as a way to relieve work and family-related stress.
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While keeping an open mind on imposing a community service order, Principal Magistrate Bina Chainrai told Li that immediate imprisonment was “very likely”. The officer will be sentenced on February 9.
Established in 1982, the credit union aims to promote financial management among the force’s members, allowing them to save money on a regular basis and earn dividends in return. It also offers officers a variety of loan schemes at relatively low interest rates.
As of December 2019, the union held HK$10.59 billion worth of shareholder capital, with total assets valued at HK$11.56 billion. It has about 45,000 members, including current and retired police officers.
The Post reported in August last year that the union was shifting its assets to Chinese-based banks in fear of sanctions imposed by the United States over the national security law.
Members making a loan application to the union are required to disclose all loans from third parties and the total amount due, on top of signing a declaration the information provided is true and complete.
Li, who joined the force in 1988, applied to the union for three loans totalling HK$451,920 over the four-year span, racking up HK$115,379 after deducting outstanding loans the officer previously owed to the cooperative, according to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The union was not aware Li already had debts of up to HK$1.21 million when he filed those applications.
Meanwhile, Li was found to have spent HK$2,280 betting on local horse races last year with 72-year-old bookmaker Yu Chuen-kin, who had previously worked as a private driver for company executives.
On Tuesday, Li pleaded guilty to three counts of fraud and one of betting with a bookmaker, while Yu admitted two counts of bookmaking for accepting bets of HK$13,300 from the officer and other punters.
In mitigation, defence counsel James Tze Ying-kuen said Li became his family’s breadwinner after his wife could no longer work due to a medical condition. He had sought to relax by betting on horse races and football matches with illegal bookmakers.
Tze urged the court to be lenient on the disgraced officer, who was set to lose his HK$2 million pension and a monthly allowance of HK$15,000 after his expected retirement, in addition to facing internal disciplinary hearings after the legal proceedings.
“I would urge you not to shut down all sentencing options at this moment,” the lawyer told the magistrate. “I would urge you to give one chance and one final chance to this defendant.”
Yu was granted bail before sentencing on February 16, pending assessments on his suitability for a probation or community service order.
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