HK$15 million gone in minutes as road accident sparks
Some motorists and passers-by treated themselves to an early Christmas in Hong Kong after a road accident involving a cash transport vehicle spilled millions of dollars in bundles banknotes across a busy motorway in Wan Chai at lunchtime.
Hong Kong police have asked the public to help return as much as HK$15 million which has gone missing in the frantic scramble for the loose HK$500 notes - each one the equivalent of about US$65 - following the accident.
Following the incident, British security service company G4S – responsible for transporting the cash – told the SCMP it expected to be liable for the loss of millions.
A spokeswoman said an internal probe was underway, but initial findings blamed a van door malfunction.
Watch: People scramble for cash after road accident spills banknotes on busy Hong Kong street
People were seen darting onto Gloucester Road in an attempt to scoop up handfuls of HK$500 notes, while witnesses spoke of at least one person collecting an armful of still-wrapped bundles of notes.
Police superintendent Wan Siu-hong said on Wednesday afternoon: "I would like to take the opportunity to appeal to every member of the public that if they picked up any money to handover to any police officer or any police station as soon as possible.
"If he or she keeps the money for his own use, he may commit an offence of theft which is a very serious crime under ordinance," he said.
"Our enquiry is still ongoing. We believe the money was dropped [initially]. We cannot rule out any possibilities at this moment."
The van in the accident was transporting a total HK$525 million in cash, police said. Each cash box contained HK$17.5 million in HK$500 notes.
Of the HK$35 million that was spilled in the accident, some HK$20 million had been retrieved, according to the police.
Despite the excesses of cash spilled, the van operated by three guards continued driving to G4S’s headquarters in Cheung Sha Wan, Kowloon, 14 kilometers way, until the incident was reported.
A picture taken by an SCMP photographer at the scene showed a single bundle of HK$500 notes wrapped in plastic, with a sticker on the side bearing the figure HK$500,000 from the Bank of China (Hong Kong).
One witness, an office worker at a nearby building who requested anonymity, told the SCMP he saw a "regular looking Hong Kong lady" pick up at least 10 cash bricks before quickly walking off, although he could not verify the denominations of notes she was carrying.
"I saw a lady with 10 of them, easily. She looked like a very regular Hong Kong lady. She had an armful of bricks of cash - it was a much as she could carry. She just disappeared into the depths of Wan Chai," the witness said.
The eyewitness said he had just left his office building when he noticed traffic grind to a halt.
"It all started slowing down and I noticed a couple of blue boxes on the road. I thought a lorry had lost some of its load. I saw a few people in the street picking up what I thought were iPhone boxes. As I got closer I saw they were wrapped bundles of bills.
"As well as the packed money there were HK$500 bills lying on the road itself.
"At first people did nothing, then one person went into the road," the witness said, before telling how others quickly followed suit.
"You couldn’t make it up. There were 20 or 30 people picking up cash from the road on Christmas Eve. They looked like schoolkids who knew they were being naughty, but thought, ’this is a once in a lifetime thing’. Everyone had the same look on their face."
Pictures posted on social media showed a taxi driver abandoning his car in the middle of the busy dual carriageway and scrambling around on the tarmac in an effort to collect some of the cash.
A police spokesman said: "At 1.51pm police received calls from members of the public that lots of money was on the road and some people were picking it up. It was suspected the money had fallen from a cash escort vehicle."
Armed police quickly arrived on the scene and cordoned off two lanes of Gloucester Road. The eyewitness said officers became angry as those collecting notes initially ignored their call to get out of the road, before the site was cordoned off.
Three boxes, which appeared to be containers used by security firms to transport large amounts of money, could be seen stacked up in the middle of the road being guarded by dozens of police, including armed officers. Representatives of the security firm G4S were also at the scene.
Sheeta Leung Hui-kwan, a spokeswoman for G4S Hong Kong, said: “We are still having an internal investigation and we found that something went wrong with the door on the left side.
“Our guards [conducted] the job according to the standard procedure but during the incident there were three guards in the van.
“Our guards reported the incident when they reached Cheung Sha Wan, our head office. Due to the code of conduct and the comfort problem, we will not put any guards inside where we store the money.
“The normal procedure is, if the bank wants to release the money somewhere, we will collect the cash and then put it in our vault, and we have to count the cash for security, and then we will deliver it according to the bank’s order.”
G4S said the bank only normally recorded the serial numbers if they were new notes, rather than a reused one. The security firm was only responsible for counting the cash and making sure the amount was correct, Leung added.
Regarding potential responsibility for the losses, Leung said “it is for sure” G4S is liable to cover the lost funds.
Officers were later seen in a police van counting out notes recovered from the scene.