Court reserves verdict in $1.3M laundering case
Money seized by police from an unrelated scam and money laundering case

Is
your ignorance about the transfer of illegal funds into your bank account a
valid defense against money laundering?

This
is the question that is raised yet again in the money laundering case brought
against two Filipina domestic helpers who both denied knowing how their bank
accounts were used to siphon off money from an elderly local who fell prey to a
romance scam.

Leonida
C. Manlunas, 40 and Nora Antonio Reymundo, 47, appeared at Eastern Court yesterday, expecting to hear Magistrate Jeffrey Sze hand down his verdict, but were told
they would have to wait until May 14 to learn their fate.

Both
were again released on $5,000 bail each until the verdict.

Summing
up, the defense team said both women gave their ATM cards to other people and
by doing so, had lost control over their bank accounts.

He
acknowledged that previous judgments on the same issue had not been favorable
to the defendants, but reminded the court of the legal norm that an accused
could be convicted only if the evidence shows them guilty beyond reasonable
doubt.

“Maybe
they were not smart, but that is the same reason why they should be found
innocent of the charge brought against them,” said the lawyer, adding that the two
did not have much education and exposure to commercial transactions, making
them clueless about the sinister plan of those who took their ATMs.

The
lawyer also urged the magistrate to accept the evidence given by Manlunas’
employer, who supported the defendant’s claim that an aunt who took her ATM had
disappeared after her arrest, leaving her heavily in debt.

Manlunas
is accused of
laundering a total of
$387,000 which was laundered through an HSBC account in her name between Dec.
18, 2020 and Jan. 8, 2021.

Reymundo
faces a count of dealing with a total of
$903,000 in her HSBC account between Feb 10, 2021 and Mar 4, 2021,
knowing or had reason to believe, that the funds were proceeds of an indictable
offence.

Both
pleaded not guilty to the offence, and underwent trial from Mar 11 to 13 at
Eastern Court.

Manlunas
said in her defence that she opened the account at the behest of an aunt,
Josephine, who said a friend needed it to transfer some money.

Manlunas
admitted receiving text messages from HSBC each time a transaction was made
using the account she opened, but said she did not understand what they were
about. However, she did not call the bank’s hotline for clarification.

When
she was arrested, a bank statement for the month of January 2021 was found by
the police among her things in her employer’s flat. But when asked about this
in court, Manlunas said she could not recall the incident.

She
admitted receiving $1,600 from her aunt after opening the account, but insisted
she did not know it would be used for criminal activities.

In
Reymundo’s case, she said she opened her Hang Seng account after being repeatedly
bugged by a younger cousin, Angelita Antonio, who said her friend’s boyfriend
needed it to receive money from abroad.

This
said friend, Ronilda or Dang Sumili, could not open the account herself as her
employer was working with HSBC. Reymundo said she contacted “Dang” and was able
to confirm this story.

After
opening the account at HSBC’s branch in Central, Reymundo said she immediately handed
the ATM to Dang’s boyfriend Chad who gave her $500, even when she was supposed
to get $2,000 for doing the bidding.

From
Feb. 17 to Mar 4, 2021, several bank transactions were made using the account,
and Reymundo admitted receiving text messages from HSBC each time. She said she
told Angelita about them, but her cousin advised her to just ignore them.

After
her arrest on Jun 17, 2021, along with Angelita and Dang, Reymundo said she
could no longer access her WhatsApp conversations with the two, as well as the
brief exchange she had with Chad.

Both
Angelita and Dang fled Hong Kong shortly afterwards, and are now on the city’s
wanted list.

Money
laundering is a serious offence in Hong Kong, for which the prescribed maximum
penalty is 14 years in jail and fine of up to $5 million. However, the maximum
sentence that a magistracy can normally impose is two years’ imprisonment and a
fine of $100,000.\

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