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Crime in Hong Kong

High-speed chase in Hong Kong waters sees smugglers leap from boats, swim ashore and escape

HK$10 million in electronic goods and endangered pangolin scales seized and man arrested

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 4:19pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 December, 2017, 4:35pm

A gang of smugglers jumped into the sea from two speedboats, swam ashore and escaped on land, following a two-hour high-speed chase in Hong Kong waters, sources told the Post.

The cat-and-mouse pursuit transpired as city customs officers deployed a patrol launch to guard the exit to Tolo Channel off Tai Po and thwart the mainland China-bound speedboats from leaving local waters, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.

Customs officers seized about HK$10 million (US$1.28 million) worth of electronic goods and endangered pangolin scales and impounded two cars and two speedboats in the anti-smuggling operation on Tuesday night.

Before midnight Wednesday, officers arrested a 35-year-old Hongkonger in connection with the case.

“We believe the man is a core member of a cross-border smuggling syndicate,” a source said.

By midday Thursday, the suspect was still being held for questioning and had not been charged.

The operation by officers from Customs’ Syndicate Crimes Investigation Bureau and the Ports and Maritime Command was mounted after a two-week investigation into a cross-border smuggling syndicate.

On Tuesday evening, officers started waiting near Island House Lane in Tai Po. At about 8.30pm, two seven-seater cars pulled up soon after two speedboats with one man aboard each entered Tolo Channel. Later, five men started loading boxes of goods from one of the cars to the speedboat, which berthed at the waterfront. The other speedboat stayed nearby.

“When officers moved in, the men jumped onto the speedboats, which sped off heading towards the mainland,” a source said. Customs officers on board two pursuit crafts gave chase.

“During the pursuit, the speedboats ran at a high speed and sometimes hid in mangroves and bays. Officers had to search along the coastal area. It was just like a game of cat and mouse.”

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About two hours later, the two speedboats were found off Yim Tin Tsai, but no one was on board.

“We believe the smugglers jumped into the sea, swam ashore and escaped on land,” the source said. Officers combed the area, but no arrests were made at the scene.

The haul ... could be sold for more than HK$12 million on the mainland

From the two cars and one of the speedboats, officers seized 56 boxes of electronic goods and endangered pangolin scales. The haul included more than 800 high-end digital cameras and lenses, 3,373 mobile phones, 469 computer tablets and 160kg of endangered pangolin scales.

“The haul has an estimated value of HK$10 million, but it could be sold for more than HK$12 million (HK$1.53 million) on the mainland,” another source said.

Customs officials had anticipated a rise in cross-border smuggling ahead of the holiday season, he added, with enhanced enforcement in place.

Officers from the syndicate crimes investigation bureau were following up on the case.

Importing or exporting unmanifested goods carries a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment and a HK$2 million fine under the Import and Export Ordinance.

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Under the Protection of Endangered Species of Animals and Plants Ordinance, importing or exporting an endangered species without a licence carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a HK$5 million fine.

Members of the public may report any suspected smuggling activities to the customs department by calling its 24-hour hotline on +852 2545 6182.