HK$260m cocaine haul concealed in planks

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 January, 2011, 12:00am

Customs officers have made their largest ever cocaine seizure - 290kg of the drug hidden inside two containers that arrived from Bolivia.

The consignment, with an estimated street value of HK$260 million, was concealed in 88 hollowed-out wooden planks that were mixed among about 10,000 planks.

The haul, on December 29, is the second largest in the city's history. Police seized 372kg of cocaine last April. Including the latest find, Hong Kong authorities confiscated at least 845kg of cocaine last year, about seven times more than the 121kg seized in 2009. A total of 64kg of cocaine was found in 2008.

John Lee Cheung-wing, head of the Customs Drug Investigation Bureau, announced the latest seizure yesterday after seeking help from mainland authorities in investigating a trading company in Qingyuan , Guangdong, which was named as a recipient of the shipment.

So far, no one has been arrested in connection with the case. Inquiries, with the help of mainland authorities and the US drug enforcement agency, are continuing.

'We have some clues to the case. It is possible arrests will be made soon,' Lee said.

Although Hong Kong authorities last year confiscated three large hauls of cocaine destined for other countries, Lee said: 'There is no evidence indicating that Hong Kong is being used as a drug trafficking transit centre.'

He said the shipment in last month's haul was scheduled for re-export to Qingyuan early this month, but no one came to collect the consignment.

It came from Bolivia and was trucked to Chile where it was loaded onto a container ship. It arrived via Taiwan on December 27 and was inspected by customs officers at a Kwai Chung container terminal two days later.

Hidden in each of the 88 hollowed out wooden planks were three slabs of cocaine in plastic wrap and carbon paper. Each slab weighed 1.1kg.

Carbon paper is used to escape detection by X-ray machines. Lee said the plastic wrap and glue were probably used to prevent detection by sniffer dogs.

Describing the concealment method as sophisticated, Lam Tak-fai, head of Customs Ports Control Group, said the shipment was checked because officers were suspicious about finished wooden products being imported from South America. 'It is common for timber and logs to be imported from South America but it's rare to see processed wooden products,' he said.

It was difficult to find the haul because the hollowed-out wooden planks were intermingled with 10,000 genuine planks.

The drugs were found after 20 pallets loaded with 10,000 wooden planks were removed from two containers. Two sniffer dogs gave them a positive indication. Lam said it took a team of 15 officers more than 12 hours to X-ray all the planks and to open the hollowed-out ones.