Crackdown in Hong Kong on illegal betting and fake soccer goods ahead of World Cup
Police and customs officials to gather intelligence at local stores and venues to thwart illicit activities that in 2014 totalled HK$750 million in seizures
Hong Kong police and customs officials will intensify their crackdown on illegal betting and counterfeit merchandise over the next three months ahead of the 2018 soccer World Cup in Russia.
In an operation code-named Crowbeak, local police will deploy officers to raid bars and restaurants across the city suspected of harbouring illegal bookmaking during the major sporting event, which runs from June 14 to July 15.
Apart from stepping up intelligence gathering and cyber patrols, undercover police officers plan to blend in with soccer lovers at local entertainment venues to look for unlawful betting. Customs officers will be on the lookout for counterfeit merchandise such as jerseys.
Similar operations targeting the 2014 World Cup resulted in the seizure of betting records worth more than HK$750 million (US$1.03 million) and 176 arrests. Police searched a total of 140 locations in the city, leading to 97 successful raids.
“Major football tournaments often result in a tsunami of unlawful betting,” a source said. “We will send plain-clothes police to restaurants, nightclubs and bars, especially premises that broadcast matches to root out bookies and gamblers.”
A police spokesman said it would periodically carry out cyber patrols to identify illegal gambling activities online.
Under the Gambling Ordinance, anyone engaged in illegal bookmaking could face a fine of up to HK$5 million and seven years in jail. Betting with such dealers could lead to a fine of HK$30,000 and nine months in jail.
The spokesman added the force would strengthen enforcement actions against drink driving.
Separately, a source from the Customs and Excise Department said it would closely monitor stores, local markets, online platforms and local border crossings to combat activities that infringe on intellectual property rights.
“We are paying extra attention to incoming parcels or goods to watch out for fake souvenirs,” a senior customs source explained, noting the department’s “big data system” would help screen information on online platforms such as social media and shopping sites.
The department last year launched the 24-hour automated system to analyse large quantities of information on different internet platforms. The goal is to gather information about illegal activities.
A spokesman said it would work closely with mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies in exchanging intelligence and mounting joint operations to thwart and deter the transnational movement of illicit goods.
“Customs maintains close communications with copyright and trademark owners to carry out investigations and effective enforcement,” the spokesman added.
During the 2014 Fifa World Cup, which took place in Brazil, local customs officers netted more than 180,000 suspected event-related counterfeit items valued at HK$11 million in 114 cases. In total, 62 people were arrested.