Fourteen travel agency directors and five staff in Hong Kong are suspected of swindling HK$3 million (US$386,500) off a government scheme.
Aged 32 to 83 years old, the group of 13 men and six women have been arrested for submitting forged documents to receive grants under the Green Lifestyle Local Tour Incentive Scheme, introduced in 2019 to stimulate economic revival.
These fake documents were mainly receipts from tourist bus companies, restaurants and insurance firms, for applications filed between May and July last year.
“We suspect travel agencies involved did not organise related tours and used fake receipts to apply for the government subsidy. The amount involved was HK$2.95 million in total,” said chief inspector Lo Yin-lam of the eastern district crime squad, in a South China Morning Post report.
To quality, travel agencies must hold green tours to receive cash incentives of HK$200 per tour participant, capped at HK$200,000 per agent.
The fraud was exposed after the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong made calls to verify these receipts.
These are agencies that are smaller in scale, which have been in operations for between two and up to 20 years. Investigations are ongoing, and further arrests may be possible.
If convicted, these agents may have to serve a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.