Heroin seizures triple as gangs target HK gateway

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 October, 2011, 12:00am


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Heroin seizures at the airport have surged threefold this year as traffickers try to use Hong Kong as a gateway to the mainland.

The 136.7kg of the dangerous drug confiscated in the first nine months of this year - with an estimated street value of more than HK$91 million - is the most since 2002. Customs officers at the airport arrested 55 drug couriers in the same period compared with 52 people and 37.8kg of heroin seized in the whole of last year.

'Our inquiries found that most of the seized heroin wasn't intended for local use - it was destined for the mainland,' one investigator said.

Traffickers have been targeting the mainland because heroin use in Hong Kong has fallen by a sixth in recent years in favour of other drugs such as cocaine and Ice. But customs' drug investigation bureau chief John Lee Cheung-wing said heroin traffickers trying to use Hong Kong as a gateway to the mainland had been stopped in their tracks.

'The seizures and arrests have demonstrated our determination and capacity to tackle drug smuggling,' Lee said.

The drugs - originating in the notorious 'Golden Crescent' that spans Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan - are smuggled to Hong Kong via two main routes through Africa and Southeast Asia, investigators have found.

Customs officers in Hong Kong have stepped up monitoring and have also been exchanging information with their counterparts on the mainland and law enforcers in other countries on the smuggling routes.

But the Customs and Excise Department said there was no fixed or preferred route for drug trafficking.

'Drug traffickers know no territorial boundaries and will exploit every opportunity to smuggle drugs through any avenues available around the world,' a spokesman said.

The latest figures indicate that heroin use is continuing to fall in Hong Kong. Central Registry of Drug Abuse data show the number of heroin addicts was down 15 per cent to 6,191 last year, from 7,248 in 2008.

But the number of regular cocaine users rose to 766 last year, up from 700 in 2008. Ice users rose 15 per cent to 1,580 last year, from 1,374 in 2008.

Traffickers, meanwhile, have been looking for alternative means of hiding the drugs after increasing success by officers in spotting couriers who have swallowed pellets.

Last year, 49 of the 52 arrested traffickers were discovered concealing heroin in their bodies by swallowing pellets. But the number of cases involving internal concealment fell to 26 this year. Instead, traffickers have tended to use secret compartments in their luggage. 'This may be another reason we've seen a sharp rise in heroin being seized this year,' another customs officer said.

Mainland newspaper Nanfang Daily said more than 20 mainland women were arrested in Hong Kong this year attempting to smuggle drugs to the mainland. Last year seven mainland women were arrested.