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Hong Kong customs officials with some of the 110kg of cocaine seized in an operation at the city’s international airport. Photo: May Tse

Hong Kong airport cocaine bust largest in 20 years, as officers seize HK$130 million worth of drugs and arrest two men

  • Secretary and director of engineering company formed last year detained after customs operation
  • Firefighters needed to help retrieve drugs which were hidden in hydraulic equipment shipped to city from Brazil

Hong Kong customs officers have arrested two men after seizing an estimated HK$130 million (US$16.7 million) worth of cocaine in the city’s largest airfreight bust of the drug in 20 years.

Officials needed firefighters to help them extract the 110kg haul hidden in two hydraulic devices that arrived from Brazil.

The case was the first involving drugs hidden in heavy hydraulic equipment.

A director, 51, and secretary, 50, of an engineering firm were detained last Saturday as customs officers investigated a suspicious freight consignment which had arrived four days earlier at the airport’s cargo terminal.

The drugs were found inside hydraulic equipment shipped from Brazil. Photo: May Tse

Customs officers later found 55kg of cocaine in each of the two 2.7-metre-long hydraulic devices – each weighing 1,500kg – which were sealed inside a hidden compartment.

“Lead, steel and other metals were used to seal the drugs [in the devices]. This seemingly perfect method to hide the drugs made it more difficult for us to discover the ­contraband,” Lee Kam-wing, head of the customs drug investigation bureau, said.

As the welding was nearly seamless, and customs officers were unable to easily crack it open for inspection, firefighters had to be called in to help.

Officers said that because of the coronavirus pandemic, many criminals had switched from using air travellers to smuggle drugs to parcels and cargo consignments instead.

Police seize HK$900 million worth of cocaine in biggest such bust in nearly a decade

They said the consignment first raised suspicions because of its origin in Brazil, while the consignee company’s address was also incomplete and the engineering firm was only set up last year.

“South America is not a place where large-scale hydraulic devices are usually produced,” Cheung Tin-ho, senior customs officer at the airport, said. “Therefore, customs officers used high penetration X-ray to inspect the [devices] and found some abnormal images.”

In Hong Kong, trafficking in a dangerous drug has a maximum penalty of life in prison and a HK$5 million fine.

The latest case was the third this year in which customs prevented large amounts of cocaine from entering the local market.

Firefighters helped retrieve the drugs from a hidden compartment. Photo: May Tse

In February, customs seized about 80kg of suspected cocaine from a transshipment container at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound.

A month later, officers seized around 54kg of cocaine and about 700 grams of crack cocaine with an estimated market value of HK$73 million after drug ­manufacturing and packaging paraphernalia ­were found inside a flat in Sai Kung.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: HK$130m cocaine bust at airport largest in 20 years