SMUGGLING

Hong Kong customs seizes HK$28 million worth of smuggled mobile phones, arrests eight suspects

Haul of close to 10,000 devices largest in three years

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 4:31pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 November, 2016, 9:50pm

Hong Kong Customs believes it has broken up a newly established cross-border smuggling ring following the arrest of eight people and the seizure of nearly 10,000 mobile phones with an estimated street value of HK$28 million.

On Wednesday morning, customs officers were still trying to track down the mastermind of the syndicate, which had been in operation for less than two weeks.

Syndicate Crimes Investigation Bureau divisional commander Wan Hing-chuen said the haul was the city’s biggest seizure of this kind in three years.

He believes the ring could have pocketed more than HK$4 million if the consignment had been successfully smuggled into mainland China.

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Describing the syndicate as “large-scale” and “sophisticated”, Wan said it ran a one-stop service that included the purchase, repackaging, storage and concealment of the goods as well as the illegal delivery of the phones across the border.

Goods were concealed in the false air filter compartment of at least four container trucks
Wan Hing-chuen, Customs

“Investigations showed goods were concealed in the false air filter compartment of at least four container trucks in an effort to avoid detection,” he added.

Officers fromthe bureau began investigating the syndicate about a week ago before placing its core figures under round-the-clock surveillance.

With the help of the Customs land boundary command, officers swooped into action and intercepted three Shenzhen-bound container trucks at the Man Kam To immigration control point during lunchtime on Tuesday.

“It is possible they believed there were fewer officers on duty and scrutiny was lax during lunchtime,” Wan said.

Three Hong Kong drivers were arrested after 2,700 mobile phones were found hidden in the three vehicles’ fake air filter compartments, which were installed next to their fuel tanks.

At the same time, officers arrested four male mainland suspects during a raid on a Sheung Shui village house that was allegedly used by the syndicate as a repackaging centre.

A container yard in Yuen Long that the gang used as a loading bay was also raided. At this address, four cars used to deliver smuggled goods were impounded.

At the Sheung Shui and Yuen Long locations, officers seized another 6,600 mobile phones in total.

On Tuesday afternoon, a Hong Kong-bound container truck that had a bogus air filter compartment installed was intercepted at the Sha Tau Kok immigration control point. No smuggled goods were found on board. Officers arrested its Hong Kong driver in connection with the smuggling case.

According to the Customs and Excise Department, officers at the checkpoint noticed that the case of the air filter compartment was cold.

“A motor air filter compartment connected to the exhaust pipes should generate heat while in operation,” Wan said.

He said the haul comprised new and used phones.

On Wednesday afternoon, the eight men – four Hongkongers and four mainlanders aged 23 to 63 – were being held for questioning. None of them had been charged.

Under the Import and Export Ordinance, exporting unmanifested cargo carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$2 million fine. Members of the public may report any suspected smuggling activities to the Customs 24-hour hotline at 2545 6182.