An elite customs team has been set up to tackle smuggling syndicates who are making millions of dollars a day shipping container loads of illegal goods between Hong Kong and the mainland.
Dozens of containers are smuggled into the mainland on a daily basis by well-organised syndicates, with the illegal proceeds of only one syndicate believed to exceed HK$100 million.
To combat the operations, an elite 203-strong Syndicate Crimes Investigation Bureau has been established by the Customs and Excise Department.
Investigations by the newly-formed team found that the crooked shippers are paid about 10 per cent of the value of the illegal goods, or they charge about HK$100,000 for each shipped container.
"Intelligence shows a wellorganised syndicate could smuggle dozens of the containers into the mainland each day," a source said. The containers are usually declared to contain waste or low-value products to disguise the true contents. The most popular destination is Guangdong.
Smuggled goods include precious metals, animal furs, seafood, computer hard disks and frozen meat.
"As the mainland economy has boomed, there is always a high demand for such products," the source said.
Some syndicates have their own fleet of vessels to ferry contraband to the mainland through legitimate logistics businesses.
The clients are understood to be mainland businessmen who want to avoid paying mainland tariffs such as a 17 per cent value added tax on general cargoes.
"They can save a lot of money," the source said, adding that the customers would receive compensation from smuggling syndicates if their goods were confiscated by law enforcers.
Bureau head Senior Superintendent Chong Wai-ming said: "The bureau carries out investigations into indictable offences involving syndicates and large sums of crime proceeds, and looks mainly into smuggling and money laundering activities." Established in late January, the bureau has about 50 financial investigators who help to scrutinise suspicious transactions.
The Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance will be used to prosecute smugglers and freeze all their proceeds.
"Confiscating their proceeds is the best way to hit crime syndicates and make them cease their illegal operations completely," Chong said.
The senior superintendent said his team would also mount investigations into drug trafficking, illegal cigarette trading and the infringement of intellectual property rights. The bureau has two teams - the Financial Investigation Group and the Special Investigation Group.
"Pooling expertise in criminal and financial investigations, the bureau seeks to enhance the department's capability to trace the command chain of syndicates and apprehend their masterminds," Chong said.
The Special Investigation Group is the former task force that was established in 1999 to crack down on disc piracy.
Last year, Hong Kong Customs detected 198 smuggling cases, seized HK$342 million worth of contraband and arrested 189 people. Smuggling activities between Hong Kong and the mainland accounted for 90 per cent of all the cases.