Four people were arrested on Thursday in relation to Spark Alliance, a non-profit group that raises money to provide financial aid to Hong Kong protesters.
Police arrested three men and one woman – aged between 17 and 50 – for alleged money laundering offences, and froze around HK$70 million in funds and insurance products. In response, Spark Alliance denied allegations of money laundering and said police were “smearing” them.
“We found these four arrested persons in connection with an organisation named Spark Alliance, which is a prominent online fundraising platform for the current civil unrest,” said Acting Senior Superintendent Chan Wai-kei of Financial Investigation Division of Narcotics Bureau.
Spark Alliance is one of the largest crowd-funded initiatives in support of pro-democracy protesters, with the money going towards living subsidies and covering legal and medical costs. The group is estimated to have collected about HK$80 million in the past six months, Chan added.
Police said the operation was based on “suspicious financial transactions” over the past six months conducted by a shell company, including large cash deposits and funds used to buy personal insurance products.
“They claim the funds will be used to support persons arrested in the civil unrest. However, we found a certain portion of money has been used to purchase personal insurance products, of which the amount is incommensurate with its beneficiary,” he said.
During the arrests on Thursday, officers also confiscated HK$130,000 in cash, 3,300 supermarket coupons worth HK$165,000, six arrows, two laser pointers and large amounts of protective gear.
Citing the weapons found, Chan said police “do not exclude the possibility” that the funding is being used as a “reward” to encourage teenagers to join the civil unrest.
Two of the arrested people worked as secretaries, one was a student and one was a human resources manager. Police said that one of the people arrested was the shareholder and director of the shell company.
While police made the arrests on suspicion of money laundering, Chan said those arrested may also have aided and abetted lawbreaking activities.
In a statement on Thursday night, Spark Alliance condemned the police for smearing its reputation. It said that the arrested members have lawyer support, but cannot disclose further details as the case had entered legal proceedings.
“Police are trying to use inaccurate descriptions to say we have malicious purposes such as money laundering, in an attempt to smear Spark Alliance and other support channels,” the group wrote.
Last month, HSBC bank closed a corporate account used by Spark Alliance after finding its activities did not match the business purposes stated by the client.
Spark Alliance announced that its HSBC account would cease operations on November 21, and told its supporters to stop using bank transfers to donate money. It also said that its funds in the account had been properly dealt with, and that it would announce new channels for fundraising.
“This protest support platform will continue our work as usual, and will continue to support arrested and jailed comrades to the fullest,” it said in a post dated November 18.
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