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.
70 parallel traders arrested in latest cross-border crackdown
Stuart Lau and Clifford Lo
More than 70 mainlanders have been arrested this week in the latest government crackdown on cross-border parallel traders that began last month.
After a raid yesterday on two industrial units in Fo Tan, principal immigration officer Choi Yue-ning said 31 mainlanders were arrested for breaching their conditions of stay. He said they were using new tactics to avoid the MTR Corp's 32kg baggage limit.
"At the [Fo Tan] distribution centre, the goods were packed in smaller quantities. Some could be stuffed in backpacks," Choi said. "It is believed this was in response to the MTR's stricter rules on the weight and size [of passenger baggage] since Tuesday."
Parallel traders buy goods in Hong Kong to resell over the border to avoid mainland taxes on everything from electronic gadgets to infant milk formula. People caught in Hong Kong can only be prosecuted for breaching their conditions of stay.
As part of a crackdown on traders, the MTR Corp set up scales outside four busy stations on the line to the Lo Wu border, turning away anyone with luggage weighing more than 32kg.
Choi said the latest three-day operation that began on Wednesday in Sheung Shui was followed by a raid on Thursday in nearby Fanling. Forty mainlanders distributing goods on the street were arrested.
The joint operation yesterday, which involved the police and Labour Department, also saw three Hong Kong residents arrested on suspicion of illegally employing the 31 mainlanders at Fo Tan, which is further away from Lo Wu on the East Rail line.
Instant oatmeal, infant milk formula, diapers and skincare products were seized.
Choi said fewer homes were now being used as warehouses for the goods. The crackdown that began on September 19 - involving 10 raids - has resulted in the arrest of 289 people. Of those, 17 have been sentenced to two-month jail terms, Choi said.
Meanwhile, customs officers arrested a Hong Kong driver, 50, in a cross-border bus at the Western Corridor checkpoint on Thursday. They seized 35 iPhone 5s and 40 iPads, valued at HK$410,000, that were stuffed under the dashboard and in the air-conditioning duct at the back of the private bus, which was heading to Guangzhou.
Since September 17, six mainland-bound vehicles had been caught smuggling goods. About HK$1.7 million worth of goods was seized in the past five cases.