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Illicit cigarettes seized by customs officers on September 19. Photo: Handout

Hong Kong customs confiscates HK$1.23 billion worth of illegal cigarettes this year, largest haul in 2 decades

  • If legally imported, this year’s contraband would have generated HK$839 million in tax, according to law enforcement source
  • Two factors leading to record haul were the resumption of seaborne logistics and possible rise in price in Europe, says source

Hong Kong customs officers have confiscated HK$1.23 billion (US$157 million) worth of black-market cigarettes so far this year, making it the largest annual haul of the contraband over the past two decades.

The latest figures from the Customs and Excise Department showed about 440 million untaxed cigarettes had been seized in the city as of September 22 this year, well above 427 million cigarettes worth HK$1.19 billion found in the whole of 2021.

If legally imported, this year’s contraband would have generated HK$839 million in tax, according to a law enforcement source on Friday.

“The volume of illegal tobacco products discovered so far this year is well above the seizure of the contraband in a single year since 2002,” the source said.

Illicit cigarettes seized by customs officers on September 19. Photo: Handout

He said the two main factors that led to more contraband cigarettes being found in the city this year were the resumption of seaborne logistics and a possible rise in the price of tobacco products in Europe.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic in the first quarter of this year, he said ports around the world had tightened quarantine controls, which had seriously disrupted seaborne logistics supply chains.

“As the resumption of seaborne logistics business in May, syndicates have started to accumulate their storage of illicit cigarettes in the city while trying to find buyers in Hong Kong and overseas,” the source said.

He said some of the gangs also stockpiled a huge volume of illicit cigarettes in the city as they anticipated a possible rise in the price of tobacco products in Europe amid high inflation.

HK$4.65 million in illegal cigarettes seized daily by Hong Kong customs

The volume of this year’s seizure was up 114 per cent from the 205 million cigarettes worth HK$574 million found in 2020. About 55 million cigarettes, with an estimated street value of HK$151 million, were confiscated in 2019.

This year’s seizures reached 440 million cigarettes after authorities discovered 21.6 million untaxed cigarettes worth HK$59 million hidden in two shipping containers in Tsing Yi and Yuen Long in their latest operation on Monday.

Two truck drivers, aged 51 and 57, were arrested in connection with the case. The pair have been released on bail pending further investigation.

Dealing with, possession of, selling or buying illicit cigarettes is punishable by up to two years in jail and a HK$1 million fine under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong customs makes record haul of HK$222 million worth of illegal cigarettes

The latest haul was discovered when customs officers carried out a follow-up investigation into the seizure of HK$106 million worth of black-market cigarettes in Lau Fau Shan on September 12.

On July 7, they confiscated HK$220 million worth of illicit cigarettes hidden in seven containers in Yuen Long – the largest seizure of illegal tobacco products in 21 years.

According to the Customs and Excise Department, officers will continue to target the smuggling, storage and ­peddling of illicit cigarettes.

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