HK helps smash illicit mainland tobacco trade

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 January, 2012, 12:00am


International co-operation involving Hong Kong is helping to smash illegal tobacco-growing operations on the mainland.

British authorities working to stem the flow of illicit cigarettes from China to Europe have heaped praise on their counterparts in Hong Kong and mainland China for their achievements, which include the seizure of 10 tonnes of tobacco and 713 cigarette manufacturing machines.

'These Chinese efforts really have had a market impact in the UK and other European states because they have driven down production,' said Euan Stewart, deputy director of criminal investigations at Britain's HM Revenue and Customs. 'It has been so successful that from seven provinces where illicit tobacco was manufactured and smuggled out of China to the European market, this has now been driven down to two provinces.'

Hong Kong customs and excise commissioner Clement Cheung Wan-ching said the recent seizure of 10 tonnes of hand-rolling tobacco bound for Britain was an example of the success of the partnership.

'We've been working very closely with our UK and mainland colleagues,' Cheung said. 'Their revenue officers have been in communication with our officers and the latest incident when we uncovered the largest single police case involving the smuggling of tobacco into the UK is a testament to the co-operation that has been going on.'

Stewart said he had seen a growing willingness to share information from Beijing's Anti-smuggling Bureau and the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration.

'You need good dialogue and trust to work with any Chinese official, either in Hong Kong or the mainland, and I believe we have achieved that,' Stewart said. 'We've created an environment of trust where both parties benefit and operate effectively.

'There's a definite willingness to share, sometimes quite sensitive intelligence, and we're very grateful for that. We see it making a difference. There's a whole lot less product reaching our frontiers.'

Anil Gogna, a fiscal and drugs liaison officer at the British consulate in Hong Kong, said Hong Kong was a key anti-smuggling partner in Asia.

'In China, counterfeit cigarettes have been seized and illicit tobacco factories have been found and shut. It has all had a knock-on effect on smuggling into the UK and Europe,' he said.

Cheung said Hong Kong customs had two main areas of co-operation with the mainland.

The first is when tobacco is seized and its mainland source is identified. Information is shared with mainland authorities to see if enforcement action can be taken. The second comes when mainland internet portals are used to sell tobacco to Hongkongers.

'Hong Kong is a free port, anyone can carry a reasonable amount of commodities across the border. But seeing as those commodities may be taxable on the mainland, we have a lot of co-operation. It's very much a two-way street,' Cheung said.


How much Hong Kong's tobacco duty increased by last year.

- Following the rise there was an upsurge in illicit tobacco trading