Thirteen Hong Kong tourists detained in Paris may have been held as part of a crackdown on a growing number of 'tour group smugglers' buying up luxury goods in the French capital. A spokesman for the French consulate in Hong Kong said an inquiry had been launched after the South China Morning Post reported yesterday how the group was detained for 30 hours by Customs officers. 'We cannot comment further until the French authorities provide us with some details of their investigation,' said press attache Francois Fensterbank. The Hong Kong tour group was detained at Charles de Gaulle airport last Tuesday evening at the start of a 20-day tour of Europe. They apparently aroused suspicions among officers who believed they were operating as part of an organised syndicate buying luxury brands for gangs making fake goods. One of the travellers - who returned to Hong Kong after the detention - admitted paying just $2,000 to join the tour in return for buying luxury brand goods on behalf of a 'trading company' sending goods to Japan. Although such schemes are in a grey area of the law, importing goods for the purpose of resale without declaring so and paying duty constitutes smuggling in most countries. The 10 women and three men, aged between 30 and 45, were travelling with empty suitcases and had 60 credit cards between them. None of the group was charged with any offence. Hong Kong Customs spokesman Richard Law said his department had not yet received any request for assistance from French authorities on the case. Global investigation agency Maxima Group, which specialises in brand protection for some of the world's top fashion houses, said the phenomenon of 'tour group smugglers' travelling out of Hong Kong has boomed in the past four years. 'Demand is outstripping supply,' said operations director Lindsay Hudson, speaking from London. 'It is very difficult to get hold of the latest imported styles from Europe, and they sell for three times the price on the streets of Hong Kong,' she said. 'Some women would kill for the latest Birkin or Kelly handbag, and they will pay enormous amounts to get them. 'There are also the counterfeiting gangs, many based in southern China, who are becoming increasingly sophisticated in copying these luxury products. But first they need the genuine article to copy.' The French luxury goods industry is renowned as the toughest in the world and is enforcing heavy fines as part of a crackdown to protect their brands against smugglers and counterfeiters. A spokesman for the Colbert Committee, which represents the interests of France's leading fashion and luxury-goods houses, told the Post that they were 'deeply concerned' by the black-market trade of luxury items. 'Sometimes this kind of parallel traffic is organised,' said spokesman Nicolas Prelot. He said his members regularly confronted 'tour groups' which were buying luxury brands such as Chanel, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, and Christian Dior in bulk. 'Usually our members confront the buyers who are not buying for themselves but are buying in bulk to be sold back in Asia.' Hong Kong-based brand protection expert Tony Gurka, of Commercial Trademark Services, said 'tour group smugglers' were a modern, sophisticated version of an old racket. 'It is a very lucrative trade, and these sorts of groups could be doing as many as three trips a month,' he said. 'Everything is pre-sold to retail outlets, they are only interested in genuine merchandise, they are usually surveillance-aware, and only shop in crowded places at peak times.' French anti-counterfeiting legislation was introduced in 1994, putting it in the same category as drugs and arms trafficking.