A 72-year-old man was caught with a tailor-made vest with enough pockets to hide 40 smuggled packets of cigarettes. Others hid their contraband in socks and waistbands. These were among the concealment methods used by couriers to carry illegal cigarettes into Hong Kong revealed by a senior customs officer yesterday. Kong Shui-wing, the head of the Customs' Revenue and General Investigation Bureau, was talking after the arrest of 34 people and the seizure of HK$290,000 worth of smuggled cigarettes in a two-month operation. The 72-year-old was arrested at his home after customs officers followed him when he returned from Shenzhen. He could carry a packet of cigarettes in each of his 40 pockets. Kong said some smugglers hid illegal cigarettes in their luggage and backpacks. After crossing the border without declaring the cigarettes, they took East Rail trains to their homes or delivered the cigarettes to the middlemen of smuggling syndicates. 'Investigations show some worked for smuggling syndicates and were paid HK$10 for carrying one carton of the cigarettes into Hong Kong,' the superintendent said. A courier could make several return trips a day. Some smugglers 'carried illegal cigarettes into Hong Kong, used their homes as storage areas and then peddled the cigarettes', Kong said. Such illegal traders sold the cigarettes mainly to regular customers and 'they could make from HK$5 to HK$7 a pack'. To combat such illegal activities, customs officers mounted an operation, code-named 'Bumble Bee', in the past two months. During the operation they arrested 34 people, discovered 16 storage centres and seized 150,000 illegal cigarettes. Most of the arrests were of suspected smugglers, a majority of whom were 50 years or older, with the oldest being a 73-year-old man. Kong believes they obtained the cigarettes by buying them duty-free when leaving for Shenzhen. Customs have detected 35 cases involving such illegal trade in the first quarter of this year. There were 38 similar cases in the whole of last year. Kong attributed the increase to stringent enforcement action in which Customs deployed two extra teams of officers to combat the trade. He said Customs would step up inspection at checkpoints and continue enforcement. He warned that smugglers faced a maximum penalty of a HK$1 million fine and two years' jail.