Customs elite risk wrath of triads

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 October, 2005, 12:00am

Thirty elite customs officers risk making themselves targets for contract killers and triads by joining a new Customs and Excise Department's witness protection team.

'Once they are assigned to protect a person, they have to be alert to the safety of their witness and themselves. An attacker may target our officers in order to get to a witness,' their commander, Superintendent Albert Chan Chi-hung, said.

The officers, chosen from 200 candidates, will undergo four weeks' training with the police Witness Protection Unit next year.

'Our members include male and female officers. They have to do courses on tactics, weapons, counter-surveillance and self-defence,' Mr Chan said.

'They also need training in physical fitness, emergency medical care and firefighting.'

The Witness Protection Cadre will begin operating next summer.

Two law-enforcement departments - the police and Independent Commission Against Corruption - have witness protection units.

One or two prosecution witnesses a year have demanded protection from the department, but all were classified as low-risk. Officers in charge of the cases were responsible for providing security when witnesses appeared in court.

So far, no attack has taken place and the department has not sought police help to deal with 'high risk' tasks or permanent protection arrangements over the past 10 years.

But Mr Chan said: 'As our cases are becoming more complicated, it is necessary to set up our own witness protection unit to tackle new challenges ahead.'

The unit would seek assistance from the police if necessary, Mr Chan said.

According to the department, the major criterion for deciding whether or not a witness is granted protection is the level of threat he or she will face as a consequence serving as a prosecution witness.

'The cost of setting up the new unit is minimal, as there is no establishment of new posts. Our members will be deployed from their original posts on an ad hoc basis,' said Mr Chan, who currently heads the department's special taskforce.