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Crime in Hong Kong

Nearly 3,200 people arrested and HK$220 million in illegal goods and drugs seized in Hong Kong crime crackdown

Cross-border operation ‘Thunderbolt 18’ has shut down more than 300 illegal gambling dens, drug distribution centres and other establishments in city

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 7:02pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 11:28pm

Nearly 3,200 people have been rounded up with the seizure of about HK$220 million (US$28 million) in betting records, illicit goods and illegal drugs in Hong Kong since a local crackdown on triads and organised crime kicked off in May, police said.

During the operation code-named “Thunderbolt 18”, more than 300 illegal gambling dens, drug distribution centres, vice establishments and unlicensed pubs have been shut down across the city. The seizures have included HK$130 million in illegal bets on the Fifa World Cup 2018 matches.

This year’s crackdown launched on May 15 also targeted fraudsters behind investment scams and illegal bookmakers during the month-long soccer tournament in Russia, according to law enforcement sources.

The three-month operation is part of an annual cross-border “clean-up” against organised crime syndicates and triad activities led by police from Hong Kong, Guangdong province and Macau due to end in mid-August. In Hong Kong, the raids are coordinated by the organised crime and triad bureau with the support of officers from six police regions.

So far, local police have raided almost 1,300 locations across the city, yielding the arrest of nearly 3,200 people and seizure of about HK$220 million in betting records, illicit goods and illegal drugs.

The suspects have included illegal bookmakers, alleged triad members, drug traffickers, gamblers, mainland prostitutes and those involved in money laundering and investment fraud.

One source said the seizures tallied more than HK$70 million in illegal drugs such as cocaine, crystal meth and ketamine. He explained the HK$220 million in seizures did not include more than HK$10 million in assets believed to be crime proceeds that police separately confiscated.

Teen bookmaker arrested, HK$2.4 million World Cup bet records seized

On the first day of the operation, police arrested two elderly sisters suspected of running a prostitution ring out of their luxury Mid-Levels home. Police seized HK$10 million in cash inside the flat. A website operated by the ring carried pictures of expat women who worked as prostitutes, promoting all-day, high-quality escort and massage services for upwards of HK$7,000 per session.

In June, police in Hong Kong and Shenzhen arrested 50 people in the city, Shenzhen and Dongguan; they confiscated HK$77.7 million in betting records in their joint operation targeting a cross-border bookmaking syndicate during the World Cup tournament.

Last month, bureau officers broke up the Tsuen Wan faction of the triad Wo Shing Wo with the arrest of 63 people in a series of raids across the city.

The arrests were made after an undercover police officer infiltrated the gang two years ago to gather evidence.

To combat investment fraud, police mounted two separate operations this month and arrested 100 people in connection with gold-trading scams in which attractive, sweet-talking female brokers as well as male brokers posing as women were used to coax male clients into making investments. Police said there were 162 victims in one of the cases resulting in HK$100 million in total losses.

Another source described this year’s crackdown as successful in terms of the number of arrests and the amount of seizures, adding that the operation was continuing and further arrests were expected.

Hong Kong gambling addicts and victims talk about excess betting

Last year, local police raided more than 6,000 locations with the arrest of 5,439 people and seizure of HK$304 million worth of illicit goods and illegal drugs during the annual exercise that lasted for six months amid visits by state leaders for the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty. It was the largest operation of its kind in the city since 2000.

Past operations, conducted annually, were typically initiated before National Day in October and lasted one to three months. The annual crackdown was suspended in 2014 due to the Occupy movement protests.