Hong Kong police smash suspected HK$30 million cross-border smuggling operation

A police source said that at least 10 people have been arrested, including the gang’s suspected ringleaders, over the smuggling of endangered red sandalwood and electronic goods

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 3:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 February, 2017, 5:57pm

A triad-controlled cross-border syndicate that is believed to have pocketed more than HK$30 million over the past two years by smuggling endangered red sandalwood and electronic goods from Hong Kong onto the mainland was broken up following the arrest of 11 people on Thursday, according to police.

The 11 Hongkongers - nine men and two women - included the gang’s two suspected ringleaders, a man, 58, and a woman, 48, were arrested when officers raided their homes in the New Territories before dawn.

The woman’s daughter, 23, who runs a money exchange shop in Tai Po, was also apprehended in the operation that involved more than 100 police and customs officers.

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Force insiders said the gang’s crime proceeds of more than HK$30 million were laundered through the Tai Po money exchanger and the woman’s bank accounts over the past two years.

Three of the suspects were picked up when officers intercepted two seven-seater cars and a lorry in Sai Sha Road, Ma On Shan at about 1am. Officers seized about 90 logs of red sandalwood with an estimated value of more than HK$5.4 million from the vehicles.

Superintendent Chan Tin-chu of the marine police regional crime unit said officers seized HK$740,000 along with 14,000 yuan (HK$15,800) and some foreign currency in the operation.

He said an investigation showed the syndicate had been in operation for more than two years.

Describing the gang as “sophisticated”, the source said: “To avoid police detection, many lookouts were deployed in each smuggling operation and the gang also used different loading sites along the coastal area of Sai Kung.”

He said intelligence showed goods including the high-value wood, electronic products and computer parts were transported by seven-seater vehicles and lorries to the loading sites before being shipped to the mainland on speedboats.

“During peak season, there were several such smuggling operations run by the gang in a week,” the source said, adding that Huidong in Guangdong was one of its destinations on the mainland and the journey from Hong Kong to Huidong took about 45 minutes.

Detectives had been investigating the syndicate for about a year and identified the two masterminds and their core figures.

The source said the male mastermind and core figures were suspected to be Sun Yee On triad members.

As intelligence indicated the gang was going to smuggle a batch of red sandalwood, more than 100 police and customs officers swooped into action shortly after midnight on Thursday.

At about 1am on Thursday, a speedboat with two outboard engines was found berthed at a pier in Pak Sha Wan, Sai Kung – one of the loading sites the gang is thought to have used. As officers moved in, several men jumped on board the boat, which sped away.

At the same time, police intercepted three vehicles loaded with 4.5 tonnes of red sandalwood logs in Sai Sha Road in Ma On Shan and arrested three drivers. Officers believe the vehicles were heading to Pak Sha Wan at the time.

According to police, the operation was still continuing.

Another source said red sandalwood could be bought for about HK$100 per kilogram on the black market in Asian countries, but it could be sold for more than HK$1,000 per kilogram on the mainland.

Red sandalwood is known as “red gold” due to its high value, and has long been prized in China for high-end furniture and carvings. However, overexploitation of the species, which is found only in a few areas of India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, has led to it being declared endangered.

In Hong Kong, red sandalwood is listed as endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.