Drug busters forge S. America ties

PUBLISHED : Friday, 23 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 23 December, 2011, 12:00am


More than 1 1/2 tonnes of cocaine was confiscated in Hong Kong over the past two years, prompting customs officials to take the unprecedented step of establishing intelligence links with South America to combat the drug trade.

That figure, which includes three large hauls totalling 1.2 tonnes, is three times the entire amount seized by law enforcement officials in Hong Kong between 2004 and 2009.

The sharp increase is due to traffickers' efforts to use Hong Kong as a transshipment centre to other countries, officials said.

The three large consignments had been sent from the so-called 'Silver Triangle' of Peru, Bolivia and Colombia, the world's leading cocaine producing area, the drug busters said.

John Lee Cheung-wing, head of the Customs Drug Investigation Bureau, said the cocaine seizures were a great cause of concern for the agency, and that efforts were being made to stop the traffic.

Late last month, Hong Kong narcotics officials travelled to Chile to boost co-operation with counterparts there. Lee described the visit by the Customs & Excise Department team as 'useful and successful'.

'We were able to make direct contact with our Chilean counterparts,' Lee said. 'This will help us obtain timely and up-to-date intelligence on smuggling trends and trafficking routes, so that we can take appropriate action.' Lee said the bureau would soon establish direct contacts with other South American countries to fight drug trafficking.

Chile, which shares borders with Bolivia and Peru, is one of the main cocaine smuggling routes to overseas markets. Last December, Hong Kong police seized 290kg of cocaine stowed inside two containers that originated in Bolivia and were loaded onto a container ship in Chile.

Hong Kong maintains its links with that region mainly through Interpol and consulate offices here.

Local authorities also work with the Hong Kong offices of the US Drug Enforcement Administration and other overseas agencies.

Seizures of cocaine in Hong Kong rose from 56kg in 2004 to more than 870kg last year, police figures show. In the first 10 months of this year, 767kg of cocaine was seized.

While cocaine use in increasing in Hong Kong, police said there was no indication that the three large hauls were destined for the local market.

A Customs and Excise Department spokeswoman said: 'We exercise stringent controls at entry and exit points to prevent the inflow of drugs and their transit through Hong Kong.'

Slightly more than 10 per cent of the city's drug users used cocaine last year - almost double the 5.2 per cent in 2009, according to the Action Committee Against Narcotics.