News item

Casino loan sharks who took items ‘as security’ sentenced.

A married couple who operated as loan sharks at casino’s in Westminster, have been sentenced to eight months in prison, suspended for two years along with 200 hours of unpaid work following a hearing at Woolwich Crown Court.

Winnie Mui Lay aged 47 and her husband Chee Sang Chooi aged 48, of Gulliver Street, Southwark pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to two counts of illegal money lending and one count of money laundering.

They were arrested and prosecuted by the England Illegal Money Lending Team working in partnership with Southwark and City of Westminster Borough Council’s.

On behalf of the prosecution Joseph Millington told the court how neither held a licence to operate a money lending business, nor provided any paperwork so borrowers could keep track of loans.

When the Team executed a warrant at the couple’s home in February this year, a large number of expensive items were seized including electrical items, mobile phones, jewellery and watches. A number of bank cards, post office cards, passports and other identity documents were uncovered along with documentary evidence relating to loans which had been provided. Numerous text messages found in Lay and Chooi’s phones provided further evidence of the illegal business.

All of the borrowers were female gamblers who had met Lay and Chooi at casinos in and around the Leicester Square area. A majority of the borrowers were Filipino.

Several borrowers told investigators how they had borrowed from the couple and handed over various items including their bank cards, passports and other high value items ‘as security’. 

One borrower, who told investigators she was very frightened of the couple, took out two loans for £100 each, agreeing to hand over her bank card and PIN as well a Samsung notebook as security and repaying at £10 per week.  Her debt spiralled to £1500, with weekly payments of £150. 

Upon sentencing Judge His Honour Judge Shorrock said “For a year you were lending money and if it remained unpaid it was at exorbitant rates of interest. Because they were unsuccessful gamblers they were vulnerable people. In many cases you required security for the loans. People were forced to part with possessions that meant more to them than would have been the case to people of means.

"It is impossible to say how many customers you had or how much you made...a prison sentence must be passed to reflect the seriousness of the offences, and show others the consequences of following the same path."

The chairman of the National Trading Standards Board Lord Toby Harris said: "Loan sharks target the most vulnerable in society and often trap them for years – even decades – with crippling repayments, destroying lives of individuals and their families.

“Trading standards are working extremely hard to tackle these despicable criminals –the specialist Illegal Money Lending Team, funded by the National Trading Standards Board, is making a real difference in communities all over the country.   The team provides a safe haven enabling victims to come forward and works together with local authority trading standards services, and other partners, to bring loan sharks to justice.

“We would urge anyone in the grips of a loan shark to call 0300 555 2222 in confidence to report the criminal and to get help.”
Sue Jones, head of Westminster City Council trading standards, said: “This couple systematically exploited the money needs of gamblers to charge them ruinously high interest rates and effectively dupe them into for illegal loans they could never repay.

“Those who crossed Lay and Chooi in debt were even forced to hand over mobile phones, watches and jewellery as well as large amounts of cash.

“However, today’s judgment shows the winning streak has run out for these two defendants and this case shows how we will work with the Illegal Money Lending team to pursue those who think they can make easy money from others’ desperation.”

Tony Quigley Head of the England Illegal Money Lending Team said “Loan sharks profiteer at the expense of others. In this case Lay and Chooi forced borrowers to hand over valuable and expensive items, which were often worth more than the loans. They operated illegally so borrowers weren’t protected and were quickly trapped into spiralling debt. 

This case exemplifies how this will not be tolerated – we are working to crack down on loan sharks all across the country and would urge anyone who has borrowed from a loan shark or knows of someone who has to get in touch so we can help you, and put an end to this crime. Our confidential hotline is open 24/7 on 0300 555 2222 and callers can remain anonymous if they wish.”

Nationally the Stop Loan Shark Project has secured 255 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading more than 165 years worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £40.3 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 20,000 victims.

To report a loan shark:
Call the 24/7 confidential hotline 0300 555 2222 
Text ‘loan shark + your message’ to 60003 
E-mail reportaloanshark@stoploansharks.gov.uk 
Private message us on www.facebook.com/stoploansharksproject

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For more information contact Sarah-Jane Lynch, Illegal Money Lending Team communications officer, on 0121 693 1030 or 07881617119 or email sarah-jayne.lynch@birmingham.gov.uk. To speak to the National Trading Standards Board with a more general enquiry please contact the Trading Standards Institute press office on 0845 6089430 or pressoffice@tsi.org.uk.

Notes to editors

The National Trading Standards Board (NTSB) is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards. 

NTSB provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally.

The Stop Loan Sharks Project consists of three Illegal money lending teams in England, Scotland and Wales.  The NTSB has responsibility for the England and Wales Illegal Money Lending Teams that are hosted by Birmingham City Council and Cardiff Council. There are separate arrangements in place in Scotland. 

Nationally, Illegal Money Lending Teams have secured 255 prosecutions for illegal money lending and related activity, leading to more than 165 years-worth of custodial sentences. They have written off £40.3 million worth of illegal debt and helped over 20,000 people.

The Illegal Money Lending Teams in England and Wales work in partnership with local Trading Standards Authorities in their related countries. They consist of specialist officers who investigate and prosecute illegal money lending and related activity and LIAISE officers who support victims and raise awareness of the dangers of borrowing from illegal money lenders. 

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DATE 16 August 2013