More than 20 million smuggled cigarettes seized in Hong Kong so far this year
- Contraband, with estimated street value of HK$54 million, would have cost the government HK$38 million in taxes
- Most of it thought to have come from mainland China
About HK$54 million (US$6.9 million) worth of contraband cigarettes were seized in the first 11 months of 2018, up more than 50 per cent year on year.
That was the result of raids on nearly 250 illegal lock-ups, a figure which had also grown since 2017.
The figures were revealed by Brian Chan Kai-ho of the Customs and Excise Department’s illicit cigarette investigation division on Friday, a day after the seizure of HK$3.6 million worth of untaxed cigarettes hidden in a truck from Shenzhen at an immigration control point.
Between January and November this year, customs officers discovered 244 illegal cigarette storage facilities and confiscated more than 20 million cigarettes with an estimated street value of HK$54 million. The contraband would have cost the government HK$38 million in taxes.
That was up on the 189 storage facilities raided in the same period last year, with the seizure of 13 million duty-not-paid cigarettes. Those hauls had an estimated street value of HK$35 million, with tax potential of HK$24.7 million.
A law enforcement source said most contraband cigarettes found in the city were smuggled from mainland China.
Chan, an assistant superintendent, said the illicit cigarette storage centres were discovered in different districts across the city.
“In the New Territories, abandoned huts and village houses were usually turned into such storage facilities,” he said. “In urban districts, smuggled cigarettes were often found to have been stored in industrial units.”
Chan said the rise in the number of busts was the result of their enhanced enforcement actions. He said illegal cigarette activities in the city were “under control”.
At about noon on Thursday, customs officers intercepted a Hong Kong-bound truck for a routine inspection at Shenzhen Bay Control Point.
“An X-ray examination showed suspicious images in the consignment,” Chan said.
Customs officers arrested the 55-year-old driver following the seizure of 1.35 million untaxed cigarettes hidden in 71 boxes, mixed in with about 300 boxes of other goods. The haul had an estimated street value of HK$3.6 million.
By 2pm on Friday, the driver was still being held for questioning and had not been charged. Customs officers were investigating whether there was a syndicate which recruited him to smuggle the consignment from the mainland.
Ahead of festive season, the department launched a citywide crackdown on illegal cigarettes from October 24.
During the operation, code-named Harvest, customs officers arrested 144 people and seized HK$5.7 million worth of duty-not-paid cigarettes in 133 cases. Chan said the operation was ongoing.