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Hong Kong busts $150m crypto money-laundering ring

Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise Department yesterday arrested four men over alleged money-laundering using cryptocurrency.

The Department says it detected multiple transactions in a coin named “Tether”, with value bouncing between a crypto exchange, local banks, another crypto exchange, and banks in Singapore.

HK$1.2bn (US$155m) is alleged to have been laundered by the four suspects, in what authorities said was the first case of crypto-laundering detected in the Special Administrative Region (SAR). The launderers were busy: multiple daily transactions of HK$20m were sometimes detected as they went about their scheme, which ran from early 2020 to May 2021.

Mark Woo, the head of the Department’s Crimes Investigation Bureau, told local media the investigation faced “huge challenges” because “Cryptocurrency is anonymous. Its concealability is very high.”

The agency was, however, able to decipher the ownership of around 40 crypto wallets and tie them to the four accused – but released them on bail rather than immediately pressing charges.

Also on Thursday, Hong Kong announced it plans to gazette its controversial anti-doxxing laws today.

The laws make publication of personal information a criminal offence – a change felt to be worthy after doxxing became widespread during pro-democracy protests in the SAR. The law will also create an obligation on social media companies and other web publishers to take down doxxed content.

The bill will become law without changes suggested by Big Tech’s Asian lobby, the Asia Internet Coalition, which asserted the law is not needed as its own content takedown procedures are adequate and suggested litigation over doxxing take place outside Hong Kong.

The SAR’s announcement of the bill’s gazetting indicates the administration and Coalition have since had talks and “agreed to continue to strengthen communication in the future, so as to enable the industry to better understand the purpose and content of the Bill with a view to allaying any concern”. ®


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