Indian citizens in HK and S'pore caught out by move

HONG KONG/SINGAPORE • India's shock move on Tuesday to withdraw large-denomination banknotes from circulation to fight corruption and tax evasion has left some overseas citizens high and dry as money changers in key Asian centres stop accepting the currency.

In Hong Kong's Chungking Mansions, home to more than a dozen money changers and a key hub for Indian businesses and traders, the Indian rupee found no takers, with several currency dealers displaying "0.00" at their counters.

The bustling 17-storey building is popular with travellers looking for cheap accommodation and spicy Indian and African curries.

Yesterday, more than the usual number of Indian customers turned up frantically looking to exchange their Indian banknotes, according to local money changers.

Ms Gurpreet Kaur, a Hong Kong resident of Indian origin who was trying to convert about 50,000 rupees (S$1,046), was disappointed after seven money changers refused to accept her 500-rupee notes.

"This is really frustrating and we had no time to act," she said while walking from the dimly lit building.

A trader at the Hong Kong-based money-changing chain Singapore Exchange Co said his firm had been left with 10 million rupees in cash.

"We don't know what to do. We are frantically trying to find buyers and sell at any cost. But there are no takers," said one of the clerks.

It was a similar story in Singapore, another Asian financial centre with a sizeable Indian community, with people holding rupees and unable to exchange them into other currencies.

The two financial centres are home to about 400,000 residents of Indian origin, mostly engaged in diamond and textiles trading or working in the financial and construction industries.

"Usually no one comes to change rupees, but today there are a lot of people coming to change it," an employee at Singapore-based City Money Changer said.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline 'Indian citizens in HK and S'pore caught out by move'. Print Edition | Subscribe