18 arrested over milk-powder bribery ring
The ICAC has arrested 18 people in suspected bribery scams involving supermarket workers over the sale of milk powder to traders who resell the products on the mainland.
In the latest operation, codenamed Sunshine, officers from the Independent Commission Against Corruption arrested 15 people, including six workers from four branches of a supermarket chain in Kowloon and the New Territories.
This followed another operation last month in which the store manager of a supermarket chain and two goods traders were arrested. People familiar with the investigation said the arrests involved workers from ParknShop, Market Place by Jasons and Watsons. Wellcome supermarket staff had been invited to assist the ICAC investigation.
The scams allegedly involved bribing workers from supermarkets and a health-and-beauty retail chain so traders selling baby formula on the mainland would know about their involvement and make purchases in large quantities.
'During the operation, ICAC officers seized over 1,000 cans of milk powder from the parallel goods traders,' an ICAC spokesman said in a statement last night.
The city began to experience a shortage of milk formula at the start of the year as local mothers competed with mainland women and traders who had been flocking to Hong Kong to buy the products
Many mainlanders have lost confidence in milk powder over the melamine scandal and the poor safety record of mainland food products.
The latest operation began last Friday. In addition to six supermarket workers, three serving and two former staff members at a heath-and-beauty chain store, and four goods traders were also arrested.
The supermarket and chain-store employees were alleged to have accepted bribes from the goods traders as a reward for telling them about the availability of milk powder, and helping them in buying the milk powder in bulk.
The alleged reward for the workers was HK$20 to HK$30 per milk powder can. Many of the seized products were from Mead Johnson, a popular choice among Hong Kong and mainland parents.
Because of the shortage of supply, many supermarket chains have issued internal guidelines which allow each customer to buy no more than three cans of milk formula at a time.
In the operation last month, the supermarket store manager allegedly accepted bribes from the traders to sell them the milk powder in bulk.
A spokesman for ParknShop and Watsons declined to comment on the operation yesterday.
Wellcome and Market Place by Jasons said they had not been contacted by the ICAC. The graft-buster said that the supermarkets and the health retail chain concerned gave their full co-operation during the investigation. Those arrested have been released on bail.
'Members of the public are urged to lodge reports with the ICAC when they come across suspected corruption in the sale of milk powder. All reports made to the ICAC will be kept in the strictest confidence,' an ICAC spokesman said.
The ICAC's 24-hour hotline is 2526 6366.