The value of detected transactions in Macau using alleged unregistered China UnionPay Co Ltd handheld terminals amounted to MOP1.22 billion (US$152.8 million) in 2015, Portuguese news agency Lusa reported on Tuesday, citing data from the Macau Judiciary Police.
The force last year opened a total of 30 investigations into cases involving alleged unregistered UnionPay handheld terminals. Of those, 24 cases were passed to the Public Prosecutions Office for further action, according to Lusa.
The police identified 76 suspects as part of the investigations – 62 were from mainland China, Lusa reported. The authorities also seized 71 illegally modified handheld terminals, also know as point of sale (POS) units. Such devices have typically been tampered with in such a way that the UnionPay network identifies them as being registered and operated in mainland China, where transaction fees charged by the China UnionPay system are much lower than in Macau.
None of the 30 cases investigated in 2015 was detected inside casinos, the Judiciary Police was quoted as telling Lusa.
In 2014, the Macau authorities investigated a total of 47 cases involving alleged illegal transactions through unregistered UnionPay terminals. The transactions in question were worth MOP784 million, said the Lusa report.
UnionPay International Co Ltd, a subsidiary focusing on transactions outside mainland China, including Macau and Hong Kong, missed out on MOP2.29 million in fees for the deals allegedly done on unregistered terminals in Macau last year.
A tighter, real-time monitoring system for payments made via UnionPay bank cards in Macau was unveiled in December by the local monetary authority. The authority’s announcement came shortly after media reports stating that UnionPay had issued a memo ordering a clampdown on illegally modified POS units.
Commenting on the new system, Deutsche Bank AG said at the time that the “long-held common practice” in Macau of gamblers using local watch and jewellery shops to access cash via UnionPay bank cards could be at risk under the new regulatory environment.
Deutsche Bank estimated such transactions often involved the release to the customer of between HKD100,000 (US$12,901) and HKD500,000 in cash, funding 10 percent to 15 percent of all cash accessed by gamblers in Macau.
Mainland visitors to Macau are only allowed to take a daily limit of RMB20,000 (US$3,066) in cash when crossing the border. Mainland residents gambling in Macau have routinely got around this restriction by purchasing items from one of Macau’s pawnshops or jewellery stores using their UnionPay cards, immediately returning it in exchange for cash – a transaction that is not illegal. The retailer involved usually charges gamblers a fee under that system.
In September, mainland Chinese media reported that China’s State Administration for Foreign Exchange – also known as SAFE – had announced new annual limits on automated teller machine (ATM) cash withdrawals made outside mainland China using UnionPay-enabled bank cards. According to the reports, with effect from January 1, 2016, each UnionPay-enabled card has a new, annual, cash withdrawal limit of RMB100,000 at overseas ATMs, which for the purposes of the new rules includes ATMs in Macau.
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