Drugs network 'eradicated' in Hong Kong's Lan Kwai Fong nightlife district
A major drug trafficking network has been "eradicated" in Lan Kwai Fong after months of covert police operations that netted dozens of suspects - many from Africa - who were claiming refugee status in Hong Kong.
Those convicted of trafficking received sentences of six months to two years and eight months, or have been sent to drug addiction treatment centres.
But the law enforcement action has come too late for some regular patrons of the lively district who now frequent establishments in other areas.
Complaints of blatant drug dealing in Lan Kwai Fong and the surrounding area surfaced last year, with many bar owners and customers saying the street-level peddling hurt the area's image as a safe place for both tourists and locals.
"I wasn't happy about that," said Allan Zeman, chairman of the Lan Kwai Fong Group and the so-called "father" of the nightlife district. "We've never had this problem before. Lan Kwai Fong's always been pretty clean and drug free."
Zeman and members of the Lan Kwai Fong Association, which represented dozens of bar and restaurant owners, met the police about five months ago to discuss the problem.
Following their appeal, police from Central district's vice squad carried out a variety of operations that have led to the arrests of 84 people for drug offences.
"The blatant drug trafficking in Lan Kwai Fong has been eradicated," Mark Ford-McNicol, assistant district commander for Central, said. "We've more or less cleared Lan Kwai Fong of the African guys that were doing it.
"The impression that we get … is that this issue is still ongoing, but based on the number of arrests, we'd like to dispel that."
The nationalities of those arrested include Chinese from Hong Kong, Bangladeshi, Pakistani and African.
Most are African men, mainly from Gambia, and are "form 8" holders, police say, referring to a person who comes to Hong Kong to seek asylum.
Zeman said he had witnessed a change in the past six weeks. "To be honest … I have noticed the situation has improved. Usually you can see them, they were usually at the top of d'Aguilar Street. They used to sit on the steps and that was where they operated from. It wasn't every night, but usually weekends," he said.
But the improvements come too late for one former long-time customer.
"I've lived in Hong Kong for over seven years now and it is a real shame to see LKF develop an obvious seedy side," an Australian businessman said on condition of anonymity."LKF was always … a good relaxed night out without any trouble or menace. That has changed with the brooding presence of the drug dealers. Now I would rather head for the Soho area."