HK$14.4m of contraband cigarettes seized from mainland ship
Loretta Fong and Cheung Chi-fai
Customs officers have seized cigarettes worth HK$14.4 million from a mainland river-trade vessel.
Officers believed the booty belonged to the same international syndicate that had failed to transport contraband cigarettes worth HK$32 million from Guangzhou to Malaysia late last month.
The latest haul was found on Friday during the inspection of a cargo container.
The cargo was declared as decorative lights and the container was to be shipped to Malaysia.
It arrived on a Shekou-based vessel that docked at the Kwai Chung Container Terminal.
Shekou is in Shenzhen. The 1,088 large boxes of cigarettes, containing about 9.75 million cigarettes, would have attracted taxes of HK$7.7 million.
About half the cigarettes were brand counterfeits.
Customs Revenue and General Investigation head Chiu Bit-yuen yesterday said the international syndicate could have wanted to use the latest haul to make up the losses incurred last month.
He said the cigarettes were supposed to be shipped to Malaysia, from where they would be redistributed to other Southeast Asian countries.
'The syndicate is taking advantage of a recent rise in cigarette duty in Malaysia to make more money or compensate for their previous loss,' Mr Chiu said.
In July, Malaysia raised the duty from HK$6.90 to HK$8.20, compared with the HK$5 duty on the mainland, according to Mr Chiu.
He said the total number of smuggled cigarettes seized so far this year had hit 113 million sticks, 40 per cent more than the 78 million seized in all of last year. But there was nothing to suggest that Hong Kong had become an international transit point for cigarette smuggling.
Mr Chiu pledged the department would step up co-operation with overseas authorities.
The biggest haul of illegal cigarettes was seized in 1995 and worth about HK$300 million.