Hong Kong customs seize HK$7 million haul of rare wood smuggled from Malaysia

Nearly 6 tonnes of suspected red sandalwood discovered in hollowed-out piles of gypsum boards in shipping container

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 06 June, 2018, 7:48pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 10:04am

Hong Kong customs officers discovered nearly six tonnes of endangered wood with an estimated value of HK$6.9 million (US$884,600) in a shipment of gypsum boards from Malaysia.

The haul of suspected red sandalwood – the fourth such case foiled in the city this year – brought the total quantity of seized high-value wood to 85 tonnes this year. The amount was more than double the 42 tonnes seized in the whole of last year.

The manifest for the shipping container, which arrived from Port Klang, west of Kuala Lumpur, on May 30, said it held 16 piles of gypsum boards, according to the Customs and Excise Department.

“The container was selected for inspection because it contained gypsum boards which are rarely shipped from Malaysia,” Assistant Superintendent Joy Wong Sek-yan of customs’ ports control group said on Wednesday.

She said X-ray images aroused suspicions about the container before it was opened for inspection at the Kwai Chung cargo examination compound on Tuesday.

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“The 5.7 tonnes of suspected red sandalwood were hidden in the hollow centres of 14 piles of gypsum boards,” Wong said, adding that it was the first time such items were used to conceal smuggled goods.

She said investigations were continuing. No arrests have been made.

Superintendent Raymond Chan Wan-hung said officers were investigating where the consignment was headed. “The wood was probably intended for use in the manufacture of high-end furniture,” he said.

The latest case follows the April 19 seizure of 23.8 tonnes of Honduras rosewood worth HK$2.4 million hidden in a shipping container from Honduras. On February 5, customs seized 26.16 tonnes of Thailand rosewood hidden in two shipping containers from Thailand. The haul had an estimated market value of HK$3.6 million.

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The previous month a consignment of 29.23 tonnes of Honduras rosewood worth HK$2.9 million was found in a container from Guatemala.

Chan said customs would improve the exchange of intelligence with overseas law enforcement agencies to tackle such illegal activities.

In Hong Kong, importing or exporting an endangered species without a licence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a HK$10 million fine. Anyone importing or exporting unmanifested cargo faces seven years in prison and a HK$2 million fine.

Members of the public may report any suspected smuggling activities to customs’ 24-hour hotline at 2545 6182.