Hong Kong’s High Court has granted an confiscation order to allow authorities to seize around HK$70 million of “crime proceeds” from Spark Alliance, a fundraising platform known for providing financial aid to Hong Kong protesters during the 2019 protests and unrest. Four people linked to the platform were arrested in 2019 over alleged money-laundering offences.

Spark Alliance. File photo: Wikicommons.

The police said in a statement on Monday that the court had handed down the order after a hearing that day. According to the court diary, defendants in the Spark Alliance case Wong Mo-hung and Ng Ting-kai appeared in front of Judge Esther Toh for the matter.

The force said it respected and welcomed the judgement, adding that any person convicted of money laundering could face up to 14 years in prison or a fine of HK$5 million.

“The police urges the public to pay attention to the background of the fundraisers or organisations as well as how they use their funds when making donations, so that they will not be taken advantage of by criminals,” the statement read.

Meeting the press outside of the High Court on Monday afternoon, Chow Cheung Yau of the police Financial Intelligence and Investigation Bureau said the platform in question had raised around HK$80 million between June and November 2019.

Chow said while the fund-raising platform claimed it would use donations to support those who were arrested during the protests, a police investigation had revealed that the funds raised were put into a private company bank account and were used to purchase personal insurance products as well as pay personal credit card debts.

Chow Cheung Yau of the police’s Financial Intelligence and Investigation Bureau meets the press on September 26. Photo: Hong Kong Police, via video screenshot.

When asked if donors to the platform could be prosecuted in the future, Chow said that those who believed the platform was operating legally “will not incur any legal responsibilities.” But he added that he could not speak for all individual cases.

Two arrestees left Hong Kong

Three men and one woman – then aged between 17 and 50 years old – linked to Spark Alliance were arrested on December 19, 2019, and later released on police bail.

During the initial arrest operation, police officers seized HK$130,000 in cash and receipts for supermarket coupons worth HK$165,000 from their homes, and froze around HK$70 million in funds as well as insurance products.

According to Chow, two of the four had left Hong Kong in 2020 and 2021, respectively. After learning of this, the police applied for the court to order the confiscation of the concerned assets.

High Court. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Of the two who remained in Hong Kong, one has been charged while the other is on bail pending further police investigation, local media reported.

Spark Alliance

Spark Alliance was established in 2016 and became one of the largest crowd-funded initiatives in support of pro-democracy protesters during the 2019 protests and unrest.

After the arrests in connection with Spark Alliance, the platform accused the police of attempting “to smear Spark Alliance and other support channels.”

One month before the arrests, the bank HSBC closed a corporate account used by Spark Alliance after finding its activities did not match the business purposes stated by the client.

The platform’s Facebook page has remained semi-active despite the ongoing legal proceedings and was last updated in June this year. However, it has not announced any new channels for fundraising despite saying it would do so shortly after the arrests.

The Hong Kong government is planning to implement legislation that regulates online crowdfunding to prevent activities “endangering national security.” A top official told the city’s legislature in May that public consultation on the matter was expected to begin in the last quarter of this year.

On Monday, six people related to the defunct 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund – another crowdfunding initiative in support of 2019 protesters – appeared in court over an alleged failure to register fund as a society.

Five former fund trustees, including Cardinal Joseph Zen, barrister Margaret Ng and singer-activist Denise Ho, were initially arrested under the Beijing-imposed security law for allegedly colluding with foreign forces in May.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.