HK$8 million in contraband cigarettes seized in less than two weeks by Hong Kong customs officers
Two major crackdowns by officials netted hundreds of thousands of illegal cigarettes being smuggled into the city
Contraband cigarettes worth more than HK$8 million were confiscated by Hong Kong customs officers in two major crackdowns in the first nine days of this month, officials revealed on Thursday.
Officers mounted citywide operations to stub out the supply of untaxed cigarettes amid the increasing number of significant smuggling cases. Cases that involved 500,000 or more cigarettes climbed from 11 to 14 cases in the first seven months of this year, while the number of illicit cigarettes seized rose by 35 per cent to 25 million, compared to the same period of 2016.
The latest HK$5 million haul was discovered when officers intercepted a Hong Kong-bound container truck at Lok Ma Chau Control Point on Wednesday. The import document claimed it carried 360 cartons of ceramic crafts. After X-ray examination, officers discovered 1.8 million suspected illicit cigarettes in 229 boxes at the back of the container.
“It is the first time that syndicates covered up illicit cigarettes with the ceramic flower pots,” said assistant superintendent Lau Yuk-lung, who heads the customs division investigating illicit cigarettes.
“The pots are faulty goods as they are uncoloured and made in poor quality with cracks. We believe the syndicates used such pots as cover so as to minimise the smuggling cost.”
He said initial investigations showed the consignment was intended for local consumption and the 52-year-old driver was arrested.
In a separate operation that was conducted last Wednesday, officers intercepted an incoming truck declared as carrying vegetables at Man Kam To Control Point and found about 1.2 million suspected illicit cigarettes with an estimated value of more than HK$3 million inside 134 foam boxes.
The biggest seizure of the year was made last month, when HK$8.2 million of contraband cigarettes found hidden in four shipping containers from Malaysia.
Lau stressed there was no evidence to indicate that there was an increasing trend of illegal trade and smuggling of untaxed cigarettes in the city. He attributed the climbing numbers of cases to the stepped up enforcement of the department.
Under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, the maximum penalty for selling, buying or dealing with illicit cigarettes is two years’ imprisonment and a HK$1 million fine.