How kindness can get you trapped into crime

 

Fr. John Wotherspoon speaks to migrant workers about the dangers of being too trusting

Be  careful. Be very
careful.

This was the advice community leaders were asked to emphasize
to their members last Sunday, in a workshop organized to show how the tentacles
of drug syndicates have clawed into the ranks of unsuspecting foreign domestic
workers.

In this time of internet shopping, many have been jailed for
receiving parcels that turned out to contain drugs. Some were caught running
errands to help out friends, for which they got arrested as drug traffickers.

And if they do get arrested, the charges are difficult to
shake off.

And now, an even bigger threat has emerged for domestic workers:
getting involved in money laundering.

“Just being kind these days is dangerous,“ lamented Fr. John
Wotherspoon, CEO of Voice for Prisoners and prison chaplain at Correctional Services
Department.

He related the case of a former domestic helper and now an asylum
seeker, who used to go to a park in Yuen Long.

“A local Chinese guy became friends with her. One day, the
guy phoned her, saying a friend had just arrived in Hong Kong. He asked her to
go to a hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, to get something for him. Being a kind,
trusting, simple Filipina, there’s no question of payment and she went. She was
just being kind and helpful,” Fr Wothespoon said.

“When she got to the hotel, there was an old American guy
(who got arrested earlier for bringing in drugs). We got him out on bail as
well. He was tricked to go to Sau Paulo in Brazil, and he thought he was
bringing cheese to Hong Kong. They were both arrested,” he added.

Fr. Wotherspoon also showed a video of him interviewing a
Filipina domestic helper who was arrested after accepting a parcel as a favor
for a friend she met three months before.

The friend had told her she was expecting a parcel of
cosmetics from South Africa and could not receive it because she was leaving
for the Philippines.

When the parcel arrived, the Filipina received it and signed
the delivery receipt.

It turned out that the parcel had earlier been detected to
contain 203.7 grams of shabu (also known as ice) and was brought to her by a
Customs officer posing as a delivery man.

She was arrested and handcuffed, and other agents entered the house to search for drugs but found nothing.

For one month, while detained at Tai Lam Prison, she was not
allowed to contact her family.

She was taken to a Magistrate’s court two months later, only
for the case to be elevated to the High Court where, after a six-day trial, she
was acquitted by a seven-member jury.

“Talking about being kind,” said Vivian Cheung, services program
manager of Equal Justice Hong Kong, “we also have a lot of domestic helpers
being arrested for money laundering and most of them started off being kind to
lend their ATM cards to a friend in Central on a day off who tell them, ‘I need
to open a bank account.’

“A lot of our clients are innocent and just wanted to be of
help,” she said.

Raquel Amador, community education manager of the NGO Equal
Justice Hong Kong, said in cases such as these, those under arrest should remain
silent and insist on being allowed to call friends or relatives or even the
Consulate for help.

Barrister Johnson Kwok, who had worked pro bono on several
cases involving domestic helpers, said it is difficult to get bail for cases
that involve receiving parcels “because it cannot be disputed that the parcel
is in your possession at some point.”

“You need to wait for the trial before you can explain your
side to the jury,” he said.

“For domestic helpers, it’s very difficult to get bail in the
face of a serious charge…. It’s sad for us lawyers to see,“ he added.

The workshop was held at the ESG Innovation Lab in Central and presented by Equal Justice HK, Voice for Prisoners and PathFinders.

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