44 arrested in city's biggest smuggling bust
The largest anti-smuggling raid in Hong Kong's history nabbed 44 suspects in Sheung Shui, say customs officers who described how dozens of mainland smugglers made several cross-border trips each day with goods in their hand luggage.
About 80 officers from the police, immigration and labour departments mounted the joint operation on Wednesday, said assistant Sheung Shui divisional commander Steve Lok Chun-kei.
The officers began by watching as dozens of people from the mainland collected goods, including mobile phones and red wine, in Choi Yuen Road and Choi Fat Street near Sheung Shui MTR station, Lok said.
The officers rounded up one Hong Kong man and 43 from the mainland, confiscating goods worth HK$2.3 million in the operation from 11am to 2pm, he said. The goods included 381 bottles of wine.
'It is the largest number of suspected smugglers arrested in a single operation,' Lok said.
The Hongkonger was arrested on suspicion of employing illegal workers, while the 23 men and 20 women from the mainland were arrested for breaching their conditions of stay in Hong Kong.
Police said they were investigating whether the suspects were working for syndicates.
Another officer said mainland smugglers came to Hong Kong using multiple-entry permits for visiting relatives.
'Their hand luggage is packed with gadgets and red wine instead of their clothing when they return to the mainland' through the Lo Wu checkpoint, the officer said.
'In Hong Kong, they are given trendy goods that are in demand on the mainland to carry across the border.'
Popular items include iPhones and iPads.
The smugglers are paid about HK$20 for each item, and they can pocket a few hundred dollars each trip. One piece of luggage can store at least 20 items, because the packaging is removed and brought into the mainland separately.
The smugglers picked the items up either at warehouses near the Sheung Shui MTR station or in the streets around the station, according to the officer.
'After crossing the border, they hand the goods to syndicate members and collect money,' the officer said.
The smugglers were breaking immigration and labour laws, another customs officer said, but not import-export laws because hand luggage was defined as personal belongings, not cargo.
The proportion of travellers from Hong Kong to the mainland that go through the 24-hour Lo Wu border checkpoint to Shenzhen