Huge haul of flu pills seized at airport

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 June, 2012, 12:00am


Airport customs officers have seized hundreds of thousands of flu pills destined for underground laboratories on the mainland, where they would have been turned into quantities of the drug Ice with a street value of HK$26.5 million.

The huge haul comes amid a mainland crackdown on the distribution and sale of flu tablets containing pseudoephedrine, a key ingredient of Ice, a form of methamphetamine. Six consignments of illicit tablets, with a total weight of 700kg, have been seized at the cargo terminal so far this year. There had been no such seizures in the previous two years.

But customs officers have denied that the city is becoming a transit point for illicit substances and say the massive haul of pills has dealt a 'devastating blow' to drug traffickers.

'The controls [on the mainland have] apparently forced drug dealers to find a new supply of the chemicals from other countries and smuggle them into the mainland through different channels,' Chief Superintendent Albert Ho Shi-king, head of customs' airport command, said.

Anyone importing flu tablets must have a permit from the Department of Health. The six seized consignments, shipped from Asian countries such as Bangladesh and Malaysia, were described as nutrition and health products or vitamin pills in documents. The original source of the tablets remains a mystery.

Customs officials will step up intelligence exchanges and co-operation with mainland and overseas authorities to fight the drugs trade, but Ho says there is no evidence that Hong Kong is becoming a transit hub for the drug trade.

'The seizure has dealt a devastating blow to drug traffickers and will deter them from using Hong Kong as a transit point,' Ho said.

The latest seizure was made on Wednesday when some 770,000 flu tablets were found hidden in eight cartons from Singapore.

The consignments were stuffed under a layer of bags of pepper and wrapped in aluminium foil, in an apparent attempt to avoid detection by X-ray.

Customs officers became suspicious when they noted that the consignment contained cheap, low-grade pepper, yet the charge for the delivery was some HK$10,000.

'A total of 174kg of tablets was seized in this case. The amount of pseudoephedrine extracted from the tablets is enough to produce 6.6kg of ice,' he said. The haul is estimated to have a potential street value of HK$5.2 million.

Ho said the consignment was scheduled to be loaded onto a cargo vessel bound for Shanghai yesterday. The investigation is still continuing and Ho said local customs officials would work with the authorities on the mainland and in Singapore to investigate the case.

Methamphetamine is a synthetic amphetamine or stimulant produced in pill, powder, liquid or crystal form. The crystal form resembles ice, hence the slang name for the drug. Southern China, especially Fujian and Guangdong provinces, has long been a leading centre for the manufacture of the drug.

In April, the Macau authorities seized seven suitcases containing enough flu tablets to make HK$33 million worth of Ice from a mainland man. The drug was believed to have originated in Bangladesh and reached the city via Hong Kong.

Customs and the police in Hong Kong seized 10kg of methamphetamine in the first three months of this year.

Seizures of the drug Ice dropped by 58 per cent to 39kg last year, from 93kg in 2010.