Arrests in HK$200m smuggling operation

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 October, 2008, 12:00am

3 held after customs seizes biggest haul

Customs officers have smashed a syndicate and seized HK$200 million worth of goods in Hong Kong's biggest sea-smuggling case.

Three people were arrested over the haul, which included food, fur, and video and gambling machines. The most expensive item was Canadian ginseng, which costs about HK$600 per tael (38 grams) in Hong Kong shops.

About 17.5 tonnes of ginseng was confiscated in the operation with a total value of HK$95 million, the Customs and Excise Department revealed yesterday.

Also recovered were more than a million electronic items, 95 tonnes of walnuts and pistachio nuts, 7,000 monitors, 400 video games and gambling machines, and fur.

Albert Chan Chi-hung, head of the Customs and Excise Department's Ports and Maritime Command, said it was the first time officers had seized so many smuggled goods in just one operation.

'The goods were packed in 16 containers. The syndicate could have smuggled the goods by transferring one container at a time. But then they would have had to run the risk of being caught 16 times. So they took a chance in the hope of smuggling them all in just one go to reduce the risk of being busted,' he said.

He estimated the smugglers would have saved up to HK$50 million in tax if they were not caught.

Mr Chan said the gloomy economic outlook had created a market for second-hand durable goods.

'We believe the foodstuffs among the seizure were intended to meet strong demands for festive food such as walnuts for the Chinese New Year,' he said.

Acting on intelligence from mainland authorities and a tip-off through the customs hotline, officers carried out an operation code-named 'Monsoon' last Thursday.

Officers of the Marine Enforcement Group intercepted a vessel heading for Zhaoqing, Guangdong, in Hong Kong waters with 32 containers on board. Officers were told that the vessel contained plastic waste but instead they discovered a variety of smuggled goods in half of the containers with a total value of HK$200 million.

A subsequent large-scale operation was then conducted in which officers searched six companies in Yuen Long, Tuen Mun, Kwun Tong and Sheung Wan. It led to the arrest of two men and a woman aged between 24 and 44.

'The three arrested people are believed to be members of the smuggling syndicate. The investigation is ongoing and more arrests might be made later,' Mr Chan said.