MANILA, Philippines - A long-time Filipino domestic helper and an insurance agent in Hong Kong have both pleaded guilty to lending money to fellow workers at an exorbitant interest rate of 180 percent.
Marlene M. Rosete, 36, and Wong Si Man, 52, both entered their guilty pleas before Principal Magistrate Garry Tallentire at the Eastern Court on May 9.
Eighteen charges of lending money at an excessive interest rate were originally filed against the two defendants but six were withdrawn after prosecution offered no evidence to support them, including one where the money lent was allegedly for a whopping interest rate of 252.63 percent.
Rosete, who had worked as a domestic helper in HK for over eight years, pleaded guilty to seven counts of lending money at a 180 percent interest rate, three times the legal limit of 60 percent per annum.
Wong, who worked for an insurance company that sold an endowment policy for foreign domestic helpers, admitted four counts of the same charge.
The two, who are both out on bail, are due to be sentenced on June 6 pending background and community service order reports.
The court was told that the two defendants did not know each other. However, they were jointly charged after one of the Filipinas who borrowed money from Rosete was told via SMS that she should meet up with a "new handler" for her loan, who turned up to be Wong.
Rosete was arrested at about 6pm on Sept. 26 last year at the corner of Li Yuen street and Des Voeux Road in Central after being stopped by police who noted her "acting suspiciously."
A search of her bag yielded 10 Philippine passports and employment contracts, along with several loan agreements, proofs of address and copies of HK ID cards. When questioned, Rosete said she kept the documents as security for loans, the interest rate for which was 15% per month or 180% a year.
The Filipinas whose passports were found in Rosete's possession told the police that they had borrowed $2,000 each from someone who called herself Ruby or Marlene, who told them to repay $2,300 within one month. She also told them to surrender their passports, employment contracts and proof of address as security.
The illicit transactions were carried out at or near MTR stations.
Nine days after Rosete's arrest, R.A., one of those who had borrowed money from her, received a text message saying she must contact a Miss Chan, said to be the "new handler for Ruby's case."
R.A., on instruction by the police, arranged to meet "Miss Chan" at the Sham Shui Po MTR station on Oct. 21 last year. Wong was arrested after being spotted sending SMS to R.A.
A search of Wong's handbag revealed two Philippine passports, including the one belonging to R.A. and another to W.A., who also had an outstanding loan with Rosete. The phone used to send SMS to R.A. was also found and seized.
When questioned, Wong denied lending the money to the two, and said the passports were given to her by someone who offered to give her $100 for every passport returned to the holder.
But during a search of her house, police found six more Philippine passports and other documents relating to loans.
The owners of these passports later told the police that they also borrowed money from either Rosete or Wong at the same rate of interest.
In mitigation, Rosete's lawyer asked for leniency, saying she was just forced to do the illegal act by her employer and this employer's sister, who financed the illicit transaction.
The two are said to be on the run.
"She already suffered when she lost her job (because of the case) after nine years of working here," said the defense lawyer. "She will never be able to return here."
Wong's lawyer also pleaded for leniency, saying his client needed extra money because she was providing solely for her daughter who is studying in the United States. Wong was said to have met the Filipinas to whom she lent money in the course of her work as an insurance agent.
Both defense lawyers asked for either a fine or suspended sentence, saying the offence did not involve violence or intimidation, and were not "a syndicated form of loan sharking."
They also pointed out that the money involved was not much. -GMANews.TV