‘Drug beautician’ arrested in HK$16.5 million raid that Hong Kong customs officers say is city’s first case of crystal meth ‘ice-washing’
Suspect arrested in private Yuen Long estate with 32kg of drugs while girlfriend is picked up in Sheung Shui with HK$50,000 in cash
Hong Kong customs officers seized an estimated HK$16.5 million (US$2.1 million) worth of crystal meth and arrested a so-called drug beautician in a raid on a Yuen Long flat, in what officers said was the city’s first case of “ice-washing”.
The man, 44, purified the drug to make it more appealing to customers, meaning it could be sold at a higher price. He was taken into custody at the private Sun Yuen Long Centre estate.
Officers from the Drug Investigation Bureau, which is part of the Customs and Excise Department, also arrested a 35-year-old woman at a public housing flat in Sheung Shui. The woman, believed to be the man’s girlfriend, was found in possession of a small amount of crystal meth, which is known as Ice locally, and HK$50,000 in cash.
The man, who was arrested on Friday, is set to appear in court in Tuen Mun on Monday to face drug trafficking and manufacturing charges, which can lead to a maximum fine of HK$5 million and life in prison. The woman has been released on bail.
Lee Kam-wing, the bureau’s group head, said it was the first time officers had discovered “ice-washing” – a process in which the drug is dissolved, vaporised, distilled, and air dried, to remove the impurities that give it a yellow colour and foul smell.
“The seized equipment is special. It is used for the processing and purification of crystal meth, to turn yellowed products white, to give it a cleaner appearance,” Lee added.
While the cost of purifying the drug is relatively low, with a HK$1,000 centrifuge the most expensive component, the procedure itself is time consuming. The suspect is believed to have only been able to purify one kilogram of the drug per day.
As about half of the 32kg of the seized drug had been purified, officers believe the man could have been operating for two weeks before being arrested.
Vincent Lee Ka-ming, a divisional commander at the bureau, said the “drug beautician” only changed the appearance of the drug.
“It does not make it any stronger,” Lee added.
Officers believed the man could have bought yellowed crystal meth at a lower price, and planned to resell it after purification at a 20 to 30 per cent mark-up.
Officers were still investigating whether the man was working for bigger crime syndicates in the city, and have not ruled out further arrests.