Smugglers turn to creative methods

PUBLISHED : Monday, 22 November, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 22 November, 1993, 12:00am

HEAVY pressure by Hong Kong authorities has significantly reduced seaborne smuggling, forcing criminals to turn to increasingly sophisticated and imaginative land-based methods to get their goods onto the lucrative Chinese and local black markets.

Police believe the effectiveness of the Anti-Smuggling Taskforce has caused smugglers to ''try every trick in the book'' to get their goods across the border.

Police sources said the latest methods used by smugglers included lorries with false walls and floors, sophisticated packaging designed to hide goods and even kamikaze runs which involve a troop of smugglers willing to sacrifice themselves to allow a few others to slip through undetected.

''Old methods like hiding contraband in vehicle panels and false bottom containers have been refined to make their use much harder to detect,'' a source said. ''There is even evidence of lorries being purposely rebuilt specifically for smuggling.

''Another method used to smuggle drugs, cash, jewellery and other small but valuable items is to send a whole team of mules [people carrying contraband on their person] through in the likelihood that if even only a few get past the checkpoints it would still be worth it.

''The bosses don't care; they can hire mules for a pittance in China and if, say, five out of 20 get through, the profits are still high and they aren't concerned with the ones who are caught.

''Smuggling is about making money and life is cheap in China.'' The increase in smuggling led to the February 1991 formation of the joint police and British Navy Anti-Smuggling Taskforce.

To further police objectives of wiping out seaborne smuggling, a round-the-clock operation code named Disavow started in April.

The success of the operation is indicated in statistics which reveal that more than 300 smugglers have been arrested and nearly $100 million worth of goods seized since February 1991.

Operation Disavow secured 157 arrests and the confiscation of goods valued at more than $24 million.

Figures issued by police this month reveal that cash is by far the most popular item to be smuggled across the China-Hong Kong border.

In 1992 the taskforce made 80,600 seizures of cash, compared with 2,453 televisions, the second most frequently seized item.

''With foreign currency a highly sought after commodity in China, people are always trying to smuggle in hard cash and while we made over 80,000 seizures last year, that is probably only the tip of the iceberg, as it is relatively easy to sneak money over the border,'' the source said.

Third most frequently seized was air-conditioners at 1,592, while video cassette recorders were in the fourth spot at 1,451 seizures.

The rest of the top 10 smuggling seizures for 1992 included video cameras, motorcycles, light goods vehicles, sampans, outboard engines and cars.