Hk$51m in gold and silver is grabbed
Checks on cross-border trucks will be stepped up after the value of smuggled gold and silver bars seized by customs officials went up nearly 12 times last year.
Bars worth around HK$51.44 million were seized in 10 cases last year, almost 12 times the HK$4.3 million discovered in four cases in 2010.
Tam Yiu-keung, assistant commissioner for intelligence and investigation, attributed the increase to the difference in the prices of gold and silver between the mainland and Hong Kong over the past two years.
'Exporting expensive metals [from the mainland] has also been more difficult [due to tightened restrictions], so smuggling has worsened,' he said.
Of the 10 cases last year, nine involved the smuggling of silver bars.
Price differences ranged from HK$128 to HK$1,766 per kilogram every month, with the local price higher than on the mainland most of the time.
Smugglers hid the gold and silver bars in concealed compartments in containers, underneath the drivers' seats or in hollowed-out truck frames. Most of the bars were smuggled from Guangdong. They were then sold to traders in Hong Kong, who did not know the goods were smuggled. The traders, in turn, sell the bars overseas.
Tam said officers would be stepping up the use of X-ray machines to discover concealed stashes on trucks.
The interception of illicit cigarettes also surged last year, with 9,106 cases, up from 6,304 in 2010.
More than two-thirds of the cases involved travellers failing to declare dutiable cigarettes. The number of people arrested soared from 6,001 to 9,108 last year.
The department seized 106 million sticks of cigarettes, up from 76 million, and worth HK$250 million.
Clement Cheung Wan-ching, commissioner of customs and excise, said the surge was expected because of the 41.5 per cent rise in tobacco tax last year.
Meanwhile, the department will spend HK$4 million on setting up an electronic investigation centre this year to help officers brush up on investigating online copyright infringement cases, including the selling of counterfeit items on auction sites and the piracy of music and movies.
There were 65 cases of copyright infringement on the internet last year, involving HK$1.18 million. Of these, 19 involved social media websites, up from eight cases in 2010.
'The advancement of technology is not restricted to auctions and P2P sites. With the development of cloud technology and other storage sites, copyright infringement is growing in a new direction,' Cheung said.
Cheung is the fifth customs commissioner to be appointed from outside the service in 12 years.
Officers' morale dipped after unions complained that qualified staff were overlooked for the job.
Cheung pledged to address the issue of promotion opportunities.
The value of illicit cigarettes, in HK dollars, seized last year. About 106 million sticks of cigarettes were grabbed, up from 76 million in 2010