Biggest seizure of illicit tobacco in 14 years for Hong Kong, as HK$24 million worth of cargo uncovered

The haul was stashed among pillows in a container allegedly destined for Australia

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 4:44pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 October, 2016, 11:04pm

Hong Kong customs officers seized cargo from Vietnam containing HK$24 million worth of illicit tobacco leaves on Monday, marking the biggest haul of its kind in 14 years.

Officers intercepted a container from Haiphong at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound. Import documents claimed the 40-foot container was carrying pillowcases.

“When officers opened the container for inspection, they found about 5,300kg of suspected illicit tobacco that had not yet been rolled into cigarettes, loaded with 146 cartons of pillows and pillowcases,” Romy Cheuk Yu-sing, the divisional commander of the Ports and Maritime Command overseeing containerised cargo, said. She added the haul had a duty potential of about HK$12 million.

It was unclear if Vietnam was the source port, but authorities believed the syndicate used Hong Kong as a transit point and the illicit tobacco was likely destined for Australia.

“Hand-rolled cigarettes are popular in Australia, and the tobacco tax there is double that of Hong Kong’s,” Parry Wu Yan-kit, deputy head of the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau, said.

“Smugglers can avoid about HK$24 million of tax if the products are successfully trafficked into the country,” he added.

Wu said the syndicate adopted a complicated water route so as to avoid surveillance from law enforcement agencies along the way.

Crackdown by Hong Kong customs nets illegal cigarettes worth HK$57 million

No arrests have been made, and local authorities will contact their counterparts in Australia and Vietnam for further investigation.

The case follows two previous busts of tobacco trafficking – one in 2014 and another in 2015. Both hauls totalled 1,113kg in tobacco leaves.

Three similar cases were also uncovered in 2013, involving 7,553kg of illicit tobacco products.

On September 21, customs officers seized illicit cigarettes with a market value of about HK$54 million and duty potential of about HK$38 million in two containers arriving from Haiphong.

Some 20 million Karelia brand cigarettes from Greece were found hidden in two 40-foot shipping containers, believed to be destined for Europe. It was one of the biggest seizures of illegal cigarettes in the city since 2007.

Under the Import and Export Ordinance, the maximum penalty for smuggling is a fine of HK$2 million and imprisonment of seven years.