A Mexican man was yesterday sentenced to almost 13 years in jail for his role in a drug-smuggling operation that has renewed concerns about the presence of Latin American criminal syndicates in Hong Kong.
Antonio Jose Maria Diaz Gutierrez, 35, was arrested in a sting operation in late 2012 after he tried to collect 20 blocks of what he believed was cocaine in Pat Heung, Yuen Long.
Unknown to Diaz Gutierrez, mainland authorities had replaced the actual 13kg shipment after the container ship it was travelling on from Panama stopped in Shanghai.
Realising Hong Kong was the ship's final destination, Shanghai police notified local authorities, who arrested the Mexican when he tried to collect the stash.
Much of Asia's cocaine trade is dominated by Mexico's notorious Sinaloa cartel. The South China Morning Post reported in February that the cartel was active in Hong Kong. The city's triads are known to co-operate with the cartel, which is said to be one of the most dangerous and sophisticated drug-trafficking syndicates in the world.
Last May, five Mexicans - believed to have ties with the syndicate - were jailed for up to 27 years each for helping to smuggle 538kg of cocaine into the city.
The cartel typically moves narcotics via intermediary ports to divert authorities' suspicion.
In the Court of First Instance yesterday, Diaz Gutierrez pleaded guilty to one count of committing an act for the purpose of trafficking a substance believed to be a dangerous drug. He was jailed for 12 years and eight months.
Justice Anthea Pang Po-kam said the defendant could have been jailed for up to 31 years due to the "international dimension" of the case.
The defendant was only a foot soldier who acted on instruction and not the mastermind, defence lawyer Kevin Egan said.
Cocaine seizures by customs officials jumped from just 30kg in 2011 to 600kg in 2012, an increase of nearly 2,000 per cent.
The figure fell to 170kg last year, yet the drug has been classed by the United Nations as a "growing threat" in Asia, where increasing affluence has led to a surge in demand.
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