Customs swoop on suspected smugglers

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 October, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 October, 2008, 12:00am

Customs has arrested seven suspected smugglers, including three core members of a racket that used powerful speedboats to sneak high-value goods to the mainland over the past few years. The crackdown dealt a heavy blow to the syndicate.

Computer hard disks, integrated circuit chips, cellphones and other goods with an estimated retail value of HK$22 million were also seized.

Smuggling in Hong Kong's western waters was likely to ease and customs would keep a close eye on the situation, said Thomas Lin Shun-yin, head of the Customs and Excise Department's special taskforce.

Law enforcers were still looking for at least 20 people last night.

Yesterday's operation was mounted after a two-week intensive investigation and surveillance in which customs officers discovered the ring's transport network. They found boxes of smuggled goods were first delivered to a 24-hour public car park near the Chek Lap Kok airport cargo terminal, before being loaded onto delivery vans.

Describing the syndicate as 'sophisticated', he said that from the car park, the fully laden vans would drive to coastal areas such as Pak Mong, Siu Ho Wan and an East Coast Road pier on Lantau Island, then transfer the goods to the mainland-bound speedboats. One customs officer said the smugglers worked four or five nights a week, and that each operation involved about 30 people and four to six powerful speedboats.

'They were very fast,' the officer said. 'They could empty boxes of goods from a fully laden van and load them onto speedboats in one minute. So they needed a lot of manpower in order to avoid our raids.

'If we swooped on them, they would abandon their operation and escape in powerful speedboats.'

The syndicate also posted lookouts on land and at sea to avoid detection. They used to work between 3am and 5am.

Law enforcers, including the police and customs, had mounted a number of raids against the syndicate in the past, but failed to make arrests in most of the cases.

In the latest operation, about 80 customs officers moved into action at about 1am. At the East Coast Road pier, more than 10 men fled in four speedboats loaded with more than 40 boxes of goods heading towards the mainland. They abandoned four boxes of smuggled goods and the van on the shore.

At the car park, officers nabbed seven men and seized HK$20 million worth of goods in five delivery vans and trucks. The detainees, aged between 20 and 47, were being held for questioning and no one had been charged.