The influx of parallel traders who buy their stock tax-free in Hong Kong to resell it in mainland China at a profit is causing growing unrest. Residents of Sheung Shui, a town close to China's border, say the increase in parallel importers has pushed up retail prices and causes a general nuisance. Importers argue that their trade benefits the Hong Kong economy.
131 held in swoop on parallel-goods trade in Sheung Shui
Police and immigration officers arrest people packaging goods for cross-border traders in Sheung Shui on suspicion of working illegally
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Law enforcement agencies staged a high-profile arrest of more than 100 mainlanders in North District yesterday against a background of snowballing discontent among residents there over parallel-goods traders.
All but one of the 131 arrested, who were aged 22 to 60, were packaging goods for export; the only goods carrier detained had 11 boxes of geoduck clams worth more than HK$10,000, officers said.
The police and Immigration Department conducted the operation near the border a day after the government promised to crack down on what residents see as an increasing nuisance.
Principal immigration officer Wong Yin-sang said 130 workers were arrested in the Advanced Technology Centre, a 10-minute walk from Sheung Shui station, packing goods ranging from red wine to baby milk formula.
"Instead of carrying out a large-scale stop-and-search operation at a crowded place like the Sheung Shui railway station, we opted to crack down on the source," Wong said.
He said 50 of those arrested held multi-entry permits, meaning they were probably Shenzhen permanent residents who were allowed unlimited travel to Hong Kong.
Communities in North District are angry over an influx of traders who, they say, drive up the prices of daily necessities by buying goods in bulk for resale across the border in order to dodge high taxes on the mainland. Some traders also obstruct streets, they allege.
Protests peaked at the weekend, with locals yelling at mainlanders carrying heavy baggage.
Wong denied that officers took action only in response to a pledge by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor a day earlier that the government was paying attention to the problem. He said law enforcement personnel had undertaken five joint operations recently, arresting 79 mainlanders and four locals.
No Hongkongers were arrested yesterday because the action was aimed at mainlanders working illegally, he said.
Police Chief Inspector Pius Wong Hok-sze said no triad involvement in the trade had been found so far and no masterminds arrested.
Anyone convicted of hiring people not eligible to work in the city is liable to a fine of up to HK$350,000 and up to three years in jail. Anyone convicted of working illegally in Hong Kong faces a fine of up to HK$50,000 and two years in jail.
"Ex-parallel trader gives his point of view" video by Hedy Bok
Wong said the identities of mainlanders convicted for working illegally would be passed to authorities across the border so that Shenzhen could bar them from Hong Kong for a maximum period of two years.
Despite the action, hundreds of suspected parallel-goods carriers were seen at Sheung Shui station yesterday, though the numbers were a far cry from a few weeks ago.
"I'm not afraid of having my permit revoked," said one woman who said she transports Yakult drinks and tissue paper once a week.
Additional reporting by Hedy Bok