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Authorities must clamp down on illegal money exchanging in Macao

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Authorities must clamp down on illegal money exchanging in Macao

By Lei Wun-kong and Kacee Ting Wong

In 2022, the Macao police identified over 3,500 people suspected of illicit money-exchange activities in or near casinos, and most of the suspects came from the Chinese mainland. A high-profile inspection was carried out by the police in early March, covering gaming floors, shopping zones, and hotel-related areas at Galaxy Macau and The Venetian Macao on Cotai, as well as equivalent areas of MGM Macau and StarWorld Hotel on the city’s peninsula.

In September, Macao’s secretary for security, Wong Sio-chak, said the city’s authorities will consider the criminalization of unlicensed money changing in or near casinos. The Illegal Gambling Law (Law 8/96/m) criminalizes the unlicensed supply of games of chance. It prohibits all forms of operation, promotion or assistance of gaming by unlicensed entities or individuals, or outside the areas that have been approved as casinos or gaming areas, as well as fraudulent gaming in approved areas and the extension of credit to players by unlicensed entities or individuals.

Because the Illegal Gambling Law will soon be reviewed by the Macao Special Administrative Region government, the recent upsurge in illegal money-exchange activities has sparked a maelstrom of legal commentary on proposals to incorporate provisions into the revised Illegal Gambling Law to criminalize illegal money exchange activities in casinos.

For instance, one of the authors of this article stated earlier that the presumption under Article 13(2) of the “Unlawful Gambling System” should be applicable to “money exchange”, i.e., money-exchange activities in casinos are illegal so as to make it easier for authorities to carry out their duties.

Before examining whether we should lift the heavy burden-of-proof millstone from the neck of the prosecutor to prove every element of the proposed criminal charge against illegal money-exchange activities, we believe that three important factors provide the necessary context for us to accurately assess the threat posed by these activities.

First, the rapid growth of these activities has caused concern that illegal money-exchanges may have an adverse effect on the efforts of the mainland authorities to control cross-border currency flow.

According to Macao-based lawyer Sergio de Almeida Correia, addressing such concerns is in line with the overall objectives of the revised Macau Gaming Law, which stipulates that gaming operations must be aligned with Macao’s policies against cross-border illegal flow of capital. These objectives are laid down in Article 1-A of the Gaming Law.

In the past, mainland visitors liked to use UnionPay cards to evade exchange controls imposed by the mainland authorities to clamp down on illicit capital outflows. As a result of the removal of UnionPay point-of-sale machines by Macao banks, pawn shops inside the casinos are no longer offering UnionPay cash-back services. Besides, ATMs have been installed with a facial recognition system to prevent mainland users from withdrawing money from accounts that are not theirs. In theory, mainland authorities can effectively impose controls on the amount of yuan that can be brought across the boundary per trip.

But there remains a gap between theory and practice. Some illegal money-exchange agents are good at finding innovative ways to navigate the wild criminal seas. These agents offer better rates than licensed money-changers and banks. Though the transaction is illegal, some people think it is a victimless minor offense that only violates the legal rights of licensed money-changers and banks. The unlicensed exchange of money is currently punishable under the city’s Financial System Act, which can result in a fine and a publication of the sanction in local media. From the perspective of China’s financial stability, the fact that some agents offer unauthorized cross-border transactions has sent a bracing chill into the bones of the law enforcement agencies in Macao.

Second, crimes arising from illegal money-exchange activities, such as homicide, money laundering, fraud, robbery, and theft, have become serious security problems in Macao. Such heinous crimes should not be allowed to destabilize the city.

Third, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that illegal money-exchange agents target certain mainland visitors in or near casinos. Unlucky losers who urgently need cash to reclaim their foothold and extend their gambling session are often on the radar of these agents.

Providing extra funds for desperate gamblers to stage a comeback constitutes a violation of responsible gambling policies propagated by the Macao SAR government. There is no doubt that a small percentage of gamblers develop an addiction that compromises, disrupts, or damages personal, family, or vocational pursuits.

In a previous interview, one of the co-authors persuasively argued that those responsible for drawing up the revised Illegal Gambling Law should reverse the burden of proof. At a glance, the reversal appears to affect the defendants’ “presumption of innocence”, but this understanding is wrong in that the reversal only becomes operative when the alleged illegal money-exchange activities took place inside casinos, and the reversal is rebuttable by evidence to the contrary. Having said that, we should not delude ourselves into thinking that the police can easily find adequate evidence to establish the necessary nexus between illegal money-exchange activities and promotion of illegal gambling. Keeping a watchful eye on covert activities inside casinos poses further operational problems for law enforcement agencies. Therefore, the reversal is reasonable and necessary.

The reversal would operate as follows: If an accused person has engaged in illegal money-exchange activities in casinos, he or she is presumed to be criminally liable for violating the revised law of illegal gambling because of the provision of funds for gambling. To make the presumption clear, law draftsmen should draw inspiration from Article 13 (2) of Law 8/96/m. Finally, heavier punishment should be imposed on these activities as a deterrent.

The amended Financial System Act, which came into effect on Wednesday, makes no provision for the criminalization of illegal money-exchange activities in or near casinos. The Monetary Authority of Macao should attach great importance to the above matter. According to lawyer Carlos Coelho, a potential solution to mitigate the problem is to allow the use of digital renminbi in casinos. The usage would take the intermediaries responsible for currency-exchange activities out of the picture.

Lei Wun-kong is a lawyer based in Macao and litigation and practice senior consultant of Chinese Dream Think Tank. 

Kacee Ting Wong is a barrister, part-time researcher of Shenzhen University Hong Kong and Macao Basic Law Research Center, chairman of Chinese Dream Think Tank.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

【CDTT Newspaper Article】Lei Wun-kong & Kacee Ting:Authorities must clamp down on illegal money exchanging in Macao (China Daily HK Edition, 3 Nov 2023)

https://www.chinadailyhk.com/article/359421#Authorities-must-clamp-down-on-illegal-money-exchanging-in-Macao

Chinese Dream Think Tank is a non-profit Hong Kong-based organization working with skilled volunteers, experts and professionals who are passionate about telling the China story well.

This article is reproduced by Kwun Media with the consent of China Daily.

中國夢智庫| 「換錢黨」非法外幣兌換

去年,澳門特區警方拘捕超過3,500名涉嫌在賭場內或附近進行非法外幣兌換商業活動人士(「換錢黨」)。而在2023年3月初,澳門特區警方又進行了大規模執法行動,巡查澳門銀河、位路氹的澳門威尼斯人、澳門美高梅與座落在澳門半島的星際洒店等區域、巡查範圍包括博彩廳、購物區與酒店內的相關區域(註1)。

9月,澳門特區保安司司長黃少澤先生表示,當局將考慮將發生在賭場內或附近的「換錢黨」行為刑事化(註2)。與黃司長此次立法建議相關的有關法律條文是澳門特區法律第八/九六/M號法律《不法賭博制度》(《不法賭博制度》)(註3),《不法賭博制度》將無牌提供博彩遊戲人士的行為定為刑事犯罪。此法律禁止無持牌實體或個人在法律許可地方以外,或法律許可地方以內以欺詐性的任何方式經營、推廣或協助博彩,以及無牌實體或個人向玩家提供信貸服務(註4)。

由於澳門特區政府即將檢討《不法賭博制度》,最近「換錢黨」活動越發猖狂,在法律界引起一場激烈評論,本文其中一位筆者早前建議,在賭場內作出有關非法兌換行為,可被推定為博彩提供的服務(舉證責任倒置),以便警方更容易調查倘有刑事責任,即:賭場內的非法外幣兌換活動很大機會會被定罪。

與香港特區主控官一樣,澳門特區檢察官在每個案件中都背負著沉重的舉證責任,在進一步討論將「換錢黨」行為刑事化並列入法定有罪推定條款之前,筆者認為,以下三個重要背景因素可為大家提供準確評估「換錢黨」行為構成威脅的參照資料。首先,「換錢黨」行為的迅速增長能對內地金融機構控制跨境貨幣流動的能力產生不利影響。

根據澳門特區律師Sergio de Almeida Correia,解決無牌外幣兌換問題符合修訂《澳門博彩法》的總體目標,即:博彩業務必須與澳門打擊跨境非法資本流動的政策保持一致(註5)。

過去,內地外遊遊客在澳門特區使用「銀聯」卡來規避內地金融機構為打擊非法資本外流而實施的外匯管制。由於澳門特區的銀行紛紛拆除裝設在各分行的「銀聯」機,賭場內「當舖」已不再提供「銀聯」現金返還服務。再來,自動櫃員機已安裝面部識別系統,防止內地使用者從不屬於自己的帳戶中取款(註6)。從立法理論出發,內地金融機構可有效控制外遊旅客每次可攜帶出境的人民幣金額。

但理論與實踐之間仍存在距離。一些「換錢黨」非常「食腦」,善於尋找創新方式,規避刑責。這些「換錢黨」為急需外幣兌換人士提供比持牌貨幣兌換商與銀行更具吸引力的兌率。雖然「換錢黨」交易是非法的,但有許多人都認為這只是輕微罪行,只侵犯了持牌貨幣兌換商與銀行的合法權利。再者,根據澳門特區《金融體系法律制度》相關規定,「換錢黨」目前被視為違規行為,違規者只會被罰款與在當地報紙上公開譴責(註7)。從我國全國性金融穩定角度來看,允許/默許「換錢黨」提供未經授權的跨境兌換貨幣交易的事實,已構成重大法律漏洞。

再來,「換錢黨」活動能引發其他嚴重罪行,如: 兇殺、洗錢、欺詐、搶劫與盜竊,嚴重影響澳門特區整體性安全。澳門特區政府不應讓這些嚴重罪行肆意破壞當地的穩定。第三,大家注意,「換錢黨」在賭場內或附近所主要針對客戶群體是內地遊澳賭博人士。那些急需現金來「最後博一舖」的賭客們是「換錢黨」的「貴賓」。為絕望中求的賭徒提供額外可用賭金明顯違反澳門特區政府一直宣傳的「負責任賭博政策」。毫無疑問,一小部分賭徒業務發展出一個損害、破壞社會或損害個人、家庭或個人前途的非法商業系統(註8)。

本文筆者之一早前接受採訪中建議(註9),考慮將《不法賭博制度》「… 第十三條第二款的推定延伸適用於『換錢黨』,即在賭場內作出有關非法兌換行為,亦推定是為博彩提供(舉證責任倒置),以便更容易適用倘有刑事處罰 …」。雖然表面上看,這種「舉證責任倒置」似乎影響了被告享有的「無罪推定」,但兩者不是完全相同,「舉證責任倒置」雖有現實執法實踐的合理性與必要性,但事實上,在該法所限定賭場範圍內發生才會作出有關事實推定,而且如有相反證據可推翻有關推定。

「舉證責任倒置」有以下幾個要素:被告人如在賭場從事「換錢黨」非法兌換活動,則在證據上推定其因提供賭金而需承擔倘有刑事責任。換句話說,應將上述《不法賭博制度》第十三條第二款的推定延伸適用於「換錢黨」,即:在賭場內作出有關非法兌換行為,亦推定是為博彩提供(舉證責任倒置),以便更容易調查倘有刑事責任;另一種修法方法是甚至可研究創設一全新罪狀(例如: 不論提供款項是否用於賭博,意圖為自己或他人獲得財產利益,在賭場或博彩場所內從事「換錢黨」行為)。最後,應考慮加重相關罰款。

經修正的《金融體系法律制度》將於11月1日生效,但此次修例沒有規定將賭場內或附近的「換錢黨」活動刑事化。澳門金融管理局應高度重視上述事宜。根據律師卡洛斯·科埃略(Carlos Coelho),允許在賭場使用數字人民幣是解決方案之一。這種方法可在相關領域有效剔除非法貨幣兌換中介機構(註10)。

事實與資料來源已核查

註 1: GGR Asia「Macau police spot checks for illicit bet-money changers」07.03.2023 available at: https://www.ggrasia.com/macau-police-spot-checks-for-illicit-bet-money-changers/

註 2: GGR Asia「Any Macau clamp on money changing may hurt GGR: pundits」25.09.2023, available at: https://www.ggrasia.com/any-macau-clamp-on-money-changing-may-hurt-ggr-pundits/#:~:text=The%20consultant%20further%20noted%20that,where%20they%20are%20still%20available”.

註 3: 澳門立法會「不法賭博」22.07.1996 available at: https://bo.io.gov.mo/bo/i/96/30/lei08_cn.asp

註 4: Global Practice Guides「Gaming Law 2022- Macau」available at: https://practiceguides.chambers.com/practice-guides/gaming-law-2022/macau

註 5: GGR Asia「Any Macau clamp on money changing may hurt GGR: pundits」25.09.2023 available at: https://www.ggrasia.com/any-macau-clamp-on-money-changing-may-hurt-ggr-pundits/

註 6: Macau Daily Times「AMCM PREPARING LAW AMENDMENT TO TACKLE ILLEGAL CURRENCY EXCHANGE ACTIVITIES: WONG SIO CHAK」07.07.2023 available at: https://macaudailytimes.com.mo/amcm-preparing-law-amendment-to-tackle-illegal-currency-exchange-activities-wong-sio-chak.html

註 7: 同前,註 5

註 8: Huang Gui-hai「Responsible Gambling Policies and Practices in Macao: A Critical Review」Asia Journal of Gambling Issues and Public Health, Vol.2 No. 1 October 2011 at p 50

註 9: 李煥江 「律師建言修法打擊不法博彩」24.09.2023 available at: https://appimg.modaily.cn/app/szb/pad/content/202309/24/content_290556.html

註 10: 同前,註 5

文:李煥江
澳門律師
澳門法學協進會會長
「中國夢智庫」中國澳門訴訟與實務高級顧問

文:丁煌
深圳大學基本法研究中心兼職研究員
經民聯港島支部主席,「中國夢智庫」主席
香港薈萃協會法律顧問,城市智庫成員
國際公益法律服務協會顧問委員會成員
全國港澳研究會會員

《中國夢智庫》是一間扎根特區的非牟利團體;與心存熱誠的資深義工、專家與職業專業人士們合作,攜手「說好中國故事」。

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