New smuggling operation proves easy case to crack
Customs find 1.3m cigarettes inside fake water heaters after cheap material gives game away
Contraband cigarettes from the mainland have been found hidden in fake electric water heaters that look just like the real thing - complete with built-in electric socket, power switch and an energy-efficiency label stuck on the casing.
The new smuggling technique was uncovered by customs during a raid in Kwun Tong.
"It comes in a white, metre-tall shell. From its appearance, it looks like a real electric water heater," said Walter Mak Hoi-wan, head of the Customs and Excise Department's revenue and general investigation bureau.
"But the shell is made of plastic and is empty inside. It's just a plastic container."
Each container was used to hold 70 packs of cigarettes, Mak said.
The discovery was made on Monday, when officers raided an industrial unit that was used as a repackaging and distribution centre for illicit cigarettes.
Officers arrested two Hong Kong men, aged 29 and 45, and seized 1.3 million cigarettes with an estimated market value of HK$3.3 million.
Most of the cigarettes were found hidden in 69 of the fake water heaters. Another 26 fake heaters were at the site.
Lai Sau-ieng, deputy head of the bureau, said she believed recent enforcement action had led some syndicates to look for new concealment methods in an attempt to evade detection.
She said investigations showed the centre had been in operation for less than a week and the consignment was for local consumption.
The two Hongkongers were understood to have been hired to repack the cigarettes. They were held for questioning last night and had not been charged yet.
Customs seized 51 million contraband cigarettes worth HK$127.5 million in the first seven months of this year.
That compared with 36.8 million cigarettes worth HK$92 million found in the same period last year. The department attributed the increase to enhanced enforcement action against the sources of illicit cigarettes.