Hong Kong customs uncovers biggest haul of ketamine at airport in 14 years, seizing 200kg worth HK$86 million
- Consignment, declared as carrying 12 boxes of electric drills, selected for inspection after it was sent to city last month from the Netherlands via Taiwan
- Customs officers snare five suspects during undercover sting operation at Tai Kok Tsui factory building
Customs officers have confiscated about HK$86 million (US$10.95 million) worth of ketamine hidden in an air consignment of electric drills from the Netherlands, making it the biggest haul of the drug uncovered at Hong Kong International Airport in 14 years.
Five men were rounded up in an operation in which customs officers posed as delivery workers and dropped off the consignment at a Tai Kok Tsui factory building on Monday.
The consignment, declared as carrying 12 boxes of electric drills, was selected for inspection after it was sent to the city last month from the Netherlands via Taiwan.
Assistant Superintendent Wun Chiu-yue, from custom’s airport command at its air cargo group, on Tuesday said it was not common for such equipment to be shipped into the city from the Netherlands.
“Our investigation indicated there were no records showing the consignee and sender of the goods involved in any previous shipment,” he said. “This raised our suspicions so we chose the consignment for inspection.”
During their inspection on May 6, customs officers at the airport discovered eight of the boxes contained 200 bags of ketamine weighing 200kg in total. On the same day, two logistics workers were arrested when they went to collect the goods at the airport cargo terminal. They were later bailed.
Superintendent Lee Man-lok of customs’ drug investigation bureau said three controlled deliveries had been arranged since May 6, but were all cancelled because a man allegedly authorised by the consignee could not be contacted or claimed he was unavailable to collect the consignment.
“It is possible the drug-smuggling syndicate used this tactic to test whether it was an ambush by law enforcers,” he said.
Around midday on Monday, a fourth delivery was made to a Tai Kok Tsui factory building, where a 45-year-old Vietnamese man collected the consignment outside. The man holds a recognisance form, a temporary identification document that permits the bearer to remain in the city but not work.
At the same time, a 44-year-old man arrived in a car, picked up two of the boxes and then drove off. Customs officers followed the car to a Sham Shui Po building, where a 62-year-old man joined the 44-year-old.
When the two local men brought the two boxes into a subdivided flat in the building, customs officers rushed inside and arrested them. Inside the flat, 50kg of ketamine was found in the boxes, as well as 350 grams of heroin. Customs said it believed the flat was used for storing illegal drugs.
Next door, in a subdivided flat occupied by the 62-year-old, customs officers seized HK$650,000 in suspected illegal proceeds.
At the same time, officers arrested the Vietnamese man in Tai Kok Tsui and seized another 150kg of ketamine in six of the boxes.
“The 200kg haul had an estimated street value of HK$86 million. It is the biggest seizure of the drug at the airport in a single case in more than a decade,” the superintendent said. In 2008, customs officers at the airport seized more than 300kg of ketamine from India.
Lee said an initial investigation suggested the consignment was for local consumption and the three suspects arrested on Monday were allegedly core members of the syndicate, which was believed to have been operating for two or three months.
This haul is just 25kg less than what customs officers seized in the first four months of this year. They confiscated 225kg of ketamine between January and April, with most of it also found in the airport.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the three men were still being detained on suspicion of drug trafficking – an offence punishable by up to life in jail and a HK$5 million fine.
According to the Customs and Excise Department, an active investigation is still under way and further arrests are not ruled out.
The latest figures show Hong Kong customs confiscated 1,500kg of illegal drugs in the first four months of 2022, a 190 per cent increase from the 516kg of narcotics seized during the same period last year, according to Lee.
The superintendent said the department would enhance enforcement actions to combat drug trafficking and tackle the illegal trade at its source.