Grisly murders of 2 women spark backlash against wealthy expat bankers in Hong Kong

Bars in Hong Kong's Wanchai district. Once a den of vice and violence, a notorious playground for British and US sailors, Wanchai is now a thriving commercial district filled with offices and trendy restaurants. -- PHOTO: AFP 
Bars in Hong Kong's Wanchai district. Once a den of vice and violence, a notorious playground for British and US sailors, Wanchai is now a thriving commercial district filled with offices and trendy restaurants. -- PHOTO: AFP 

HONG KONG (AFP) - The murder of two young Indonesian women in Hong Kong, allegedly by a British expatriate, has sparked a backlash against wealthy Western bankers accused of treating the financial hub as their own personal playground.

The victims were found mutilated in 29-year-old Rurik Jutting's upmarket apartment in Wanchai, streets away from the neon-lit bars of the neighbourhood's famous red-light district - popular with expats and tourists at all hours.

Jutting, who has been charged with the double murder and will next appear in court Monday, was a regular on the strip, and the reported discovery of sex toys and cocaine in his apartment have added to the debauched portrayal of the former Bank of America Merrill Lynch securities trader.

The women's brutal murders and the accusations against Jutting have touched a nerve, triggering criticism of privileged foreign workers in the city's famous finance industry. "Just like bankers anywhere, they earn top dollar without having many social responsibilities in Hong Kong," says Mr C. H. Lo, 37, a jeweller who has lived in the city most of his life. "Their disposable income and immoral lifestyle creates a demand for high-end drugs and prostitution.

"The Chinese believe the greatest virtue is to take care of one's own parents when they grow old. But expat bankers generally display a 'work hard, play hard' attitude."

English and Chinese language social media in Hong Kong has lit up with criticism of the behaviour of some Westerners in the wake of the killings.

"A lot of losers from the West think they are God once they come to Asia. Too bad they give all western expats a bad reputation," said one response to a news story of Jutting's arrest posted online.

"Some expats get to Asia and develop a huge ego and superiority complex, thinking they are above the law, doing things they would never consider in their home countries," said another.

Foreigners also expressed fear for their own reputation.

"Agree, expats should behave better, I can feel our reputation going down year after year because of these scumbags," one post said.

With ongoing pro-democracy protests in the city spurred on by its increasing wealth disparity, there are also those who see well-paid bankers as part of that wider problem.

Hong Kong has one of the largest wealth gaps in the developed world, and a fifth of the population lives in poverty, according to charity Feeding Hong Kong.

"Expat bankers are overpaid and that has contributed to the wealth gap," said 31-year-old media worker Maggie Ho.

"I think locals have been rather wary of bankers following the Lehman Brothers crisis," she added, referring to the 2008 collapse of the US banking giant.

Jutting's case has also sparked an outpouring of confessional tales from those inside the industry - stories which fuel its critics.

"The hardest thing to do is to ask corporations and people for money. That's the essence of banking. We had to entertain people a lot," one Hong Kong banker, who declined to be named, told AFP.

"Here, you have access to a broader range of prostitution and it's at a fraction of the price than in New York.

"At one bachelor party in a (hotel) penthouse suite, we would have prostitutes performing a soapy strip dance in the bathroom, while other prostitutes would be performing oral sex on the couch. That's the essence of being a trader - it's a rock star fantasy and mentality," he said.

"I remember one banker who had so much money that at one recreational softball game, he was just handing out a lot of cocaine."

The city offers an intoxicating new world for many young Westerners, but some are unable to handle the adjustment, said another Hong Kong banker who also did not want to be named.

"It's easy for the dorky kid in high school to suddenly find himself in the cool crowd at the hottest nightclub, and to keep this high - emotional as well as chemical - he's more than willing to throw his inflated disposable income at whoever can keep it going," he said.

But while there are those who go to extremes, bankers should not all be tarred with the same brush, he added.

"There are many bankers who choose not to be a complete jackass... Alcohol is the only thing I consume and in moderation."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.