Hong Kong customs have arrested five men and confiscated around HK$200 million (US$25.7 million) in contraband during the second-largest smuggling bust this year, including luxury items, champagne, fine wines and dried seafood from endangered species. The Shanghai-bound haul also included 75,000 vinyl albums, with music by Beethoven and Mozart among others, the department said on Wednesday, adding that the discovery of the items was rare in cross-border smuggling operations. Superintendent Raymond Cheng Tak-hei of customs’ syndicate crimes investigation bureau said the records were estimated to have a total value of about HK$14 million in Hong Kong. The records were subject to mainland Chinese tariffs of 130 per cent, with the consignment able to sell for HK$32 million across the border, after tax, he said. The albums were among items discovered inside three shipments found on board two Shanghai-bound ocean-going vessels at a Tsing Yi container terminal on December 11 and 12. Cheng said an investigation by customs had suggested the same crime syndicate was involved in smuggling all three shipments. One of the shipments comprised four shipping containers that were declared to be carrying plastic granules, the department said. Bird’s nests and dried deer tails seized in HK$12 million haul by Hong Kong customs The four containers on the first vessel were selected for inspection and unloaded on December 11, only hours before the ship was set to depart from Hong Kong, with customs officers discovering HK$105 million worth of contraband goods. Assistant Superintendent Lie Yan-ning of the bureau said the shipment was selected because the mainland was a major manufacturer of the product, making it unusual for such cargo to be shipped into Shanghai. He said the smuggled goods were hidden behind four pallets loaded with plastic granules in each cargo container in an effort to avoid detection. The second and third shipments were discovered on another vessel during the following day, yielding HK$95 million worth of smuggled goods found hidden in five containers. Four of the five containers were also declared to be carrying plastic granules. Among the items found on both days, customs officers seized 22 tonnes of dried seafood worth HK$50 million, including shark fins, sea cucumber, fish maw and ginseng, as well as items made using endangered species such as dried seahorse and a manta ray gill. Authorities also discovered electronic items loaded on 180 pallets collectively worth HK$100 million, alongside more than 15,000 bottles of champagne, red wine, whisky and Japanese sake. Other seized goods included some cosmetics products and tonnes of electronic waste, such as circuit boards. Superintendent Cheng said the items, which were stored in the nine containers, had a total market value of HK$200 million in Hong Kong, making it this year’s second-largest smuggled goods haul in terms of value. “We believe the goods were to meet the festive season demand in mainland China,” he said. Hong Kong customs arrests 3, seizes HK$150 million in black market cigarettes Cheng also said that the items were covered by mainland tariffs of between 20 and 220 per cent, adding that the smugglers could have evaded HK$130 million in tariffs if all the goods had successfully reached their destination. After a subsequent investigation, customs officers arrested two men who acted as sole proprietors for two separate shell companies, as well as another three men linked to the three shipments. The group was detained on suspicion of attempting to export unmanifested goods – an offence punishable by up to seven years in jail and a fine of HK$2 million under the Import and Export Ordinance. All five have been released on bail pending further investigation. Cheng said customs officers were still investigating the source of the goods and their intended recipients. Dried seafood worth HK$250 million seized in record smuggling bust in Hong Kong Because of stringent enforcement against cross-border sea smuggling involving the use of speedboats and riverboats, he said, smugglers recently changed their tactics and used ocean-going vessels in an attempt to avoid detection, adding that customs would spare no effort to combat such illegal activities. On October 26, customs officers seized this year’s largest contraband haul in terms of value, discovering smuggled goods worth HK$300 million hidden in 10 shipping containers on board an ocean-going vessel at a Kwai Chung container terminal before it left for Tianjin. The department this year has confiscated HK$1.2 billion worth of contraband in 93 sea smuggling operations as of December 18. During the same period last year, customs seized around HK$2.2 billion in illicit goods uncovered in 96 cases. The department’s largest haul in its 112-year history was in October last year when customs officers seized HK$1.2 billion worth of smuggled goods after they intercepted 24 shipping containers on a vessel bound for the mainland.