Customs keeping eye on backpack travellers after heroin seizures

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 April, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 02 April, 2010, 12:00am

Customs officers at Chek Lap Kok airport are looking for drug traffickers posing as backpackers to smuggle heroin into the mainland from Malaysia through Hong Kong, a senior customs official says.

This comes as latest figures show customs officers seized more than 15 kilograms of heroin in the first three months of this year.

This represents a monthly average of 5 kilograms of heroin, up from 3.2kg last year.

The search was prompted after officers arrested three suspected drug trafficking at the airport, and seized 3.9kg of heroin in their packs last week. The drugs are estimated to have a street value of HK$4.38 million.

The three suspected traffickers arrived from Kuala Lumpur on March 21, 22 and 27 and each was carrying a pack in which 1.3kg of heroin was hidden.

The heroin, in plastic bags, was wrapped in aluminium foil in an apparent attempt to avoid X-ray detection, John Lee Cheung-wing, the head of Customs' Drug Investigation Bureau, said.

He said the drug was hidden in secret compartments in the packs.

'Their rucksacks are tailor-made. Pads at the back had been removed and then replaced with bags containing the drug,' he said.

The three suspects - one man and two women - were travellers from the mainland. Customs officials said they had come to Hong Kong from the mainland and travelled to Kuala Lumpur before returning to the city.

'The seized drug was not for local consumption,' Lee said. 'We believe its intended destination was Guangdong province.'

He said investigations showed the three were recruited by a multinational syndicate. Customs was still investigating.

The seizures had prompted customs officers to increase intelligence exchanges with Malaysian authorities to stop the trade and uncover the source of the drugs, Lee said.

He said extra officers had been deployed and inspections stepped up at checkpoints to prevent drug traffickers from taking advantage of heavy holiday traffic during Easter and the Ching Ming festival.

Frontline officers would pay more attention on visitors with suspicious backgrounds, he said.

In a separate case, an African woman who arrived from Bangladesh was arrested at the airport on March 26 after officers seized 1kg of heroin hidden in three cans of food in her luggage.

Customs officers said drug dealers adopted different smuggling routes, hired couriers from different countries and used different methods to conceal drugs.