Australian crime-buster posted to Hong Kong to tackle drugs menace

Expert deployed to Hong Kong as the number of Ice seizures hit record highs

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 October, 2015, 2:12am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 October, 2015, 2:12am

In an unprecedented move, Australia's most powerful law enforcement agency has posted a transnational crime expert to Hong Kong as the country steps up efforts to fight an epidemic of crystal meth, which is primarily sourced from the mainland and routed through Hong Kong.

The first-ever appointment of an investigator from the Australian Crime Commission, which has investigative powers above federal and state bodies, to the Australian consulate in Hong Kong comes as the number of seizures of methamphetamine, also known as Ice, hit record highs in both jurisdictions.

"The analyst has been deployed to Hong Kong [to work] together with other Australian law enforcement agencies including the Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force to focus on the serious and organised crime threats from the region, including the importation of methamphetamine into Australia," the head of the commission, Chris Dawson, told the Post yesterday.

Jeff Gough, who moved to Hong Kong in August to take up a consular position as transnational crime analyst, will be part of the team tasked with dismantling the criminal gangs that supply drugs to the Australian market.

A spokesman for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime yesterday also confirmed it had mounting evidence of elderly people being duped into becoming drug mules.

One such case in Hong Kong last year involved an American grandmother and widow, Elizabeth Kummerfeld, then aged 82. She was caught trying to smuggle 2kg of Ice into Australia and spent a year on remand before prosecutors dropped the case. It later emerged that she had been tricked by a West African drug syndicate into carrying the drugs.

"There is anecdotal evidence of other cases like [Kummerfeld's]," a spokesman at the UN office's headquarters in Vienna told the Post. "But we don't have information on the magnitude of the problem at a global level."

Annually since 2009, more than half the Ice seizures in East and Southeast Asia were made in mainland China, he added.

Much of the Ice was bound for lucrative markets in Australia, where the street price for the highly addictive drug can be six times higher than in other countries. "Australian [Ice] users pay a premium price compared to those in other countries," Dawson said.

According to the Office on Drugs and Crime, the average street price for a gram of crystal meth is US$80 on the mainland compared to US$500 in Australia.

Figures from Hong Kong police and customs show the methamphetamine seizures jumped from 7kg in 2006 to 488kg last year. From January to August this year, 311kg was seized.

In 2013-14, 778kg of amphetamine-type stimulants seized in Australia came from the mainland, while Hong Kong-sourced meth accounted for 456kg.

Just last month, four Hong Kong residents were arrested after Australian police seized 320kg of Ice, the biggest ever case in Western Australia.