Cocaine recovered from a recycling warehouse in Tuen Mun stacks up to the largest seizure of the drug ever in the city - worth some HK$600 million - police said yesterday.
More than 100 narcotics bureau officers were yesterday still sifting through heaps of recycled plastic containers used to conceal the narcotic at a godown rented by a South American-based drug syndicate in the village of Fuk Hang Tsuen.
So far, 567kg of cocaine has been seized, including about 50kg found in four flats in Kwai Tsing and Mong Kok. Authorities believe the godown had been used as the key storage centre for six months.
Five Mexican nationals and an American were arrested on Friday while a Chinese man and his Colombian wife were arrested on Saturday.
'We believe we have successfully neutralised the multinational syndicate,' said John Paul Ribeiro, chief superintendent of the bureau.
'The cocaine was concealed in heaps of compressed plastics,' Ribeiro said. 'Traffickers have used different ways to disguise their dealings, but this is the first time police have seen recycled materials used.'
Police said there could be more arrests and seizures in the days ahead.
Acting on a tip, officers raided the 10,000 sq ft warehouse in the village at about 3.30am on Friday and arrested the American man and five Mexicans. The suspects were carrying bricks of cocaine in several suitcases and handbags.
The drugs were stored in a total of 1,241 containers designed for automatic transmission fluid. They were tied up in bundles with iron wires in the storehouse. About 60 per cent of the containers were cleared by yesterday afternoon.
Assistant Police Commissioner David Ng Ka-sing described the environment in the godown as 'very bad', sweltering and full of piles of compressed rubbish.
Face-masked officers had been working in the godown since Friday, picking up the containers one by one and looking for cocaine bricks inside. The containers were cut open at the bottom to insert the drugs wrapped with plastic tapes or cling film.
Ribeiro said the syndicate had been in contact with local dealers, but he believed that only a small portion of the haul had been sold locally. 'It is difficult to assess the cocaine-consuming market in Hong Kong, but there has been a certain demand here,' Ribeiro said.
'We can't rule out the drug would be sold to the mainland and other countries,' he added, when asked if Hong Kong had become a major international drug-trafficking hub.
The drug is believed to arrive in Hong Kong by sea - usually from South American countries, like Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. Its use has been on the rise in Hong Kong.
The six arrested on Friday were charged with trafficking in dangerous drugs. The suspects are expected to appear today at Tuen Mun Court.
On Saturday, police also arrested a couple - a Chinese man and his Colombian wife, who both had Hong Kong identity cards - who they accuse of using their infant son to help disguise the godown's drug operations.
They were arrested in Yuen Long while pushing a stroller carrying the two-year-old, but released on police bail with orders to return today for further questioning. The boy was sent to the Po Leung Kuk orphanage.
The investigation is continuing and police will look into possible triad links. Previously, the largest cocaine seizure came in April last year, when 372kg of the drug was recovered in Tai Po Tin village.
The share of new drug users in Hong Kong using cocaine in 2011 - up from 4 per cent in 2009, the Action Committee Against Narcotics says