A tourist from Tunisia lost a bag with US$60,000 in it after leaving it on a chair while he went to the counter to buy a cup of coffee at a Starbucks outlet in Central today.
The black Samsonite bag had vanished when 55-year-old Ben Sami returned to his table two minutes later, according to police. The theft happened during the busy lunchtime rush.
He searched the ground-floor shop in Jardine House, Connaught Place, in vain and then called police at about 12.30pm.
Officers searched the area but found no trace of the bag, which is about 60cm by 45cm.
The victim, understood to be on a business trip to Hong Kong, is staying at a hotel in Central.
A senior police officer said investigators would scrutinise closed-circuit television tapes in an effort to identify the thief.
Police have classified the case as theft. The Central crime squad is investigating. No arrests had been made last night.
Starbucks' spokesman said they would support the police investigation.
A detective said the theft was typical of those carried out by gangs operating in Central, Tsim Sha Tsui, Causeway Bay and other shopping areas.
“They usually prey on targets in restaurants, coffee shops, boutiques and shoe shops – stealing unattended bags, wallets and mobile phones,” he said.
He said the gangs included mainlanders, South Asians and South Americans.
Last September, a 57-year-old man lost a suitcase full of gems worth HK$250,000 when he fell asleep in a McDonald’s restaurant in Central.
The police website advises tourists not to carry large amounts of cash or valuables around, and to always keep bags in view.
Under the Theft Ordinance, the offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years’ jail.
According to police figures, there were 31,598 reports of theft last year, a 6.1 per cent drop from 33,664 in 2012. There were 35,026 such cases in 2011.