“NOT very sophisticated” and “naive” were the words used to describe R. Tam, the Filipino hotel worker charged with three counts of “conspiracy to deal with property known or believed to represent proceeds of indictable offense” after receIving money to her bank account from her online boyfriend and depositing it to an HSBC account.
“It was her first time to make friends through the internet, a social networking and Steve Michael made an effort to gain her trust by calling her his wife and telling her they would soon be planning their life together,” Tam’s lawyer told a Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts in trying to persuade the judge to acquit her client.
The lawyer added Tam gave Michael her Public Bank account number, and nothing happened in two weeks, making her forget about it.
“He did not notify her about depositing the money. When the money arrived, the defendant did not expressly authorize him to do so. The original purpose of giving her bank account number was different from how it was used,” the lawyer said, noting the messages between the defendant and Michael prior to the money being deposited to the Filipino’s account showed this.
A Kowloon City Courts heard on Mar. 21-23 how R. Tam, a Filipino working in a hotel here in Hong Kong, received money from Michael, who identified himself as a man working in a construction company in London, through her Public Bank account, and deposited it to a HSBC account.
Tam and a Chinese woman, S. S-y. Hui, were charged with three counts of “conspiracy to deal with property known or believed to represent proceeds of indictable offense.” Tam, who married a Hong Kong resident who passed away a few years ago,” met Michael online in January 2014, and started an “internet relationship” with him a month later.
In March 2014, her boyfriend sent her $350,000. She then transferred $347,000 to an HSBC account.
“I believed him. I loved him and he loved me. We were in a relationship, and I trusted him and he trusted me,” Tam answered when asked by the prosecutor why she agreed to do what the man she only met only some two months before asked her to do.
Tam told the court her account received the money on March 26, 2014, and $3,000 was given to her by Michael after she said she needed financial assistance as life was difficult.
The prosecution charged Tam conspired with Michael to launder proceeds of illegal or criminal activities. Tam, however, said Michael told her the money came from “project-related” activities.
The Filipina, who has a grown son and daughter-in-law in the Philippines and a granddaughter, said she and Michael only communicated through online chatting.
Michael, she said, told her he could not deposit the money to his own account, but as his “wife” she should help him and handle all these transactions.
As a housekeeping staff in a hotel, Tam said she would tell Michael that she would be tired, and he would re-assure her that they would be putting up a business in the Philippines and Hong Kong.
He also promised her that he would be coming to Hong Kong in June 2014 so they could discuss their future together.
Tam said Michael introduced himself as a Caucasian man. However, on March 29, 2014, Tam found she could not check her ATM account, and messaged him that she “felt worried and she was scared”.
She said she wanted to check if her salary had been deposited to her account, but found that she could not access it.
“Honey, you’re scared? You don’t have to be scared. What happened to your card?” Michael replied.
“Now my card is under hold. Maybe somebody blocked my card. Honey, you put me in trouble,” Tam messaged Michael.
“No, I did not put you in trouble. Why do you say this, darling?” Michael replied, adding that he would also have a word with his bank manager, who Tam said was rude to her and had yelled at her on the phone so she would immediately deposit the money to the HSBC account.
“Honey, I don’t want you talk to him. Don’t take his calls. I am trusting you with my money…I am also scared, that is my company’s money,” Michael added.
“I’m really scared. You know I easily get scared,” Tam then replied.
When she confided to her daughter-in-law in the Philippines about her ATM card, the latter told her that she might have been “scammed” by Michael.
On March 31, 2014, Tam was arrested by police. In her video recording interviews with the police, Tam was also asked about a $374,000 deposit into her account, as police retrieved Michael’s message to her saying, that out of the amount, $23,000 would be hers.
“That was not a reward, that was financial assistance to me,” said the defendant.
Magistrate Veronica Heung Shuk-han adjourned the case for verdict on May 5.