10 suspected milk formula smugglers arrested
The continuing crackdown on cross-border baby formula traders has seen 10 people arrested in two days for allegedly smuggling 110 tins of milk powder, customs chiefs said yesterday.
All 10 suspects, aged from 26 to 50, were from Hong Kong.
Customs chiefs believe three smuggling syndicates were smashed in an operation which began on Friday. More arrests could be made.
It is the first time people have been found using a van as a mobile supply centre to distribute milk powder to parallel-goods traders.
The value of the 99kg of milk powder seized in the operation was about HK$27,500, customs officials said.
Two of the arrests were made in Sheung Shui and the rest at the Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau border crossings.
Chan Tsz-tat, divisional commander of customs' syndicate crimes investigation bureau, said he believed four of the detainees were the heads of the syndicates.
In the case of the mobile supply centre, officers found 34 tins of milk powder in a van parked in Sheung Shui.
They were for distribution to parallel-goods traders who had already gathered at the location.
Chan said officers also found some smugglers were employing a large number of people, each taking a small number of tins across the border every day.
Each of them received HK$15 to HK$35 per can, he said.
Paid lockers at malls were also popular locations to store formula milk for smuggling, he said.
Chan said he believed the new rules were effective in turning parallel-goods traders away as milk powder supply had returned to normal and the control points had become less crowded.
The crackdown came after new rules limiting all unlicensed exports of powdered formula for children under three years old to two cans per traveller per day on March 1.
Parallel-goods traders buy the milk powder in Hong Kong, then take it across the border.
Demand is high because parents distrust mainland supplies after the 2008 melamine-tainted- milk scandal, which killed at least six babies and made 300,000 ill.
Meanwhile, in a Legislative Council meeting yesterday, lawmakers said the definition of milk powder could be too broad under the new rules.
Dr Leung Ka-lau, representing the medical sector, said all suppliers might say their milk could be fed to infants, even though it was intended for adults.