Police believe they have smashed two triad gangs who allegedly extorted millions of dollars a month from hawkers at five building sites.
Thirty-seven people - 18 men and 19 women - were arrested in a series of raids at the sites in Tai Po, Ma On Shan, Sha Tin, Kwun Tong and Pat Heung, and at a food stall in Tsuen Wan, at about 10am yesterday. It was the culmination of a 10-month undercover operation.
They are alleged to have made millions of dollars a month charging hawkers fees for allowing them to deliver lunch boxes to workers at the five sites.
The 37, all from Hong Kong, included three men who are suspected of being key figures in the Sun Yee On and 14K triad societies, a police source said.
Fifteen delivery vans used to transport lunch boxes were impounded during the operation. Police also seized HK$90,000 in cash, three account books, 15 mobile phones and a large number of lunch boxes.
The arrests were made after officers posing as hawkers were sent to the construction sites about 10 months ago.
"Hawkers had to pay up to HK$50,000 as a 'joining fee' if they wanted to sell lunch boxes at one of the sites," Superintendent Ng Wai-hon, of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, said. "They also needed to pay a 'monthly fee' of HK$3,000 to HK$20,000."
He said hawkers were also charged a few dollars for each lunch box they sold.
Police said those who refused to pay or who left the scheme were subjected to criminal intimidation and assault.
It is understood that more than 2,000 boxes were sold per day at each site.
"The triad gangs could pocket up to HK$1 million a month at one of these sites," Ng said.
He believed the two triad gangs had been in operation at the sites for more than two years.
The Organised Crime and Triad Bureau began investigating the two gangs last July. Undercover officers collected evidence and identified key figures of the two gangs.
Last night, the suspects - aged 18 to 58 - were being held for questioning. None of them had been charged.
The operation is continuing and police say further arrests are expected.