A Filipina domestic helper who worked for an employment agency owner accused of accepting payments for bogus jobs and for laundering more than $700,000 paid by applicants has said in court that she had no doubt the agency was licensed as her boss had told her so.
Giving evidence on the 17th day of her trial along with the agency owner on Monday in District Court, defendant Marijane Biscocho, 44, said she believed the agency, WHT Consultants Co in Kwun Tong, was licensed.
Biscocho faces 20 charges, including violating her visa condition by doing illegal work, violating the Trade Description Ordinance by wrongly accepting payments for a product, and money laundering.
Biscocho said her co-accused, Lennis Ebrahim, 55, had sent her photos of a business registration certificate after some job applicants demanded to see it.
The Filipina said she had worked for Ebrahim, and her job included depositing money to the boss’ bank accounts and accepting job applications.
She said that each time she sent money to the Philippines for the training of applicants she also presented that as proof that WHT was a licensed company.
But on being questioned by her Legal Aid-provided lawyer, Phil Chau, Biscocho said the document was in Chinese and that she could not read it.
When asked about whether she knew that Ebrahim also owned another agency in To Kwa Wan, the Remy Consultants Co, Biscocho said she only learned about this when they moved to that address in 2019.
“I believe it was licensed because that was what Lennis told me,” said Biscocho when Chau pressed her about WHT’s license. She also said she did not know that Ebrahim had changed the name of WHT to Remy until the latter told her.
Asked if Remy was also licensed, Biscocho said she was not sure but there was another business registration certificate displayed on top of a cabinet in the To Kwa Wan office.
Ebrahim had also told her they were moving out of their previous office in Kwun Tong because the contract was not renewed.
The Filipina also said she was not aware that early on, Ebrahim was using another name, Catherine Yu, but found out about this only from a co-worker, Nympha Lumatac when she received a receipt for a Bank of China check addressed to a Mr Yu in April 2019.
Biscocho said during questioning by Chau that she came to Hong Kong in 1988 to work as a domestic helper of a Mr Chan in Shatin. At the time of her arrest on Nov 7, 2019 she was under a domestic helper contract with Peter Chan Hin-man, with a visa issued on Sept 27, 2017 and valid until Nov 12, 2019.
But when questioned during her arrest, Biscocho claimed she was working for WHT, with offices in Kwun Tong.
Biscocho said in reply to Chau’s question that she was offered by Ebrahim a job at WHT to talk to applicants and answer their queries about jobs. But she said she worked there only on Sundays as Ebrahim had two regular employees, Lumatac and an Indonesian woman named Allin.
Scores of Filipino domestic workers had paid placement fees to WHT to get their relatives in the Philippines to come to Hong Kong or Macau for such jobs as waiter, housekeeper, printer, caregiver and welder.
After more than a year of waiting, the applicants realized there were no real jobs and decided to complain.
Seven of them are named in the charges against Biscocho and Ebrahim: Rosalina Agcalis, Jocelyn Domingo, Nena Castro, Maria Aurora Lagura, Jovelyn Villaflor, Mary Joy Liggayu and Preciosa Abellera.
But when Chau mentioned the names of some of the applicants, Biscocho said she attended to some or accepted their documents, while Lumatac, who has disappeared after the complaints started piling up, was the one who processed their applications.
Biscocho faces two counts of money laundering for handling a total of $299,745 in a Hang Seng Bank account between Jun 17, 2018 and Sept 30, 2019. She is also accused of depositing $110,500 in an HSBC account between Sept 23, 2018 and Jun 16, 2019.
Ebrahim faces one count of money laundering for allegedly dealing with a total of $331,216 between Sept 23, 2018 and Jun 16, 2019 in an HSBC account she held jointly with Biscocho.
The trial continues.