Hong Kong customs officers smash international drug syndicate, seize HK$32m of cocaine

Bulk of 30kg haul was found hidden inside noodle-making machinery 

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 March, 2018, 7:02am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 March, 2018, 8:26am

Hong Kong customs officers seized an estimated HK$32.5 million worth of suspected cocaine – the bulk of which was hidden inside noodle-making machinery – in a two-day operation that led to the arrests of three foreign nationals and the break-up of an international drug trafficking ring.

The haul, about 30kg in total, was understood to be customs’ biggest so far this year.

On Sunday, the three suspects – all South American women, aged 28 to 31 – were charged with trafficking a dangerous drug and were due to appear in Eastern Court on Monday.

“Hong Kong Customs believes it has uprooted a transnational drug trafficking syndicate and smashed a large-scale local drug storage and distribution hub,” said Lee Kam-wing, group head of drug investigations at the Customs and Excise Department on Sunday.

An investigation was still under way on Sunday and Lee said more arrests could not be ruled out.

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Responding to intelligence reports, customs officers intercepted and arrested two of the suspects at a Chai Wan industrial building on Friday and later seized 600 grammes of suspected cocaine and drug packing paraphernalia from the same building.

Upon further investigation, 28kg of suspected cocaine was discovered inside concealed spaces in two noodle-making machines packed into two parcels that had arrived in the city from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil via mainland China. 

Customs officers attempted to break into the metal shafts in the machines but were unsuccessful. Specialists from the Fire Services Department had to be called in to help.

“We would describe the methods they used to stash the drugs as extremely sophisticated,” said Lee.

Further investigations led to the arrest of another woman and seizure of a small amount of suspected drugs as well as a drug inhalation apparatus at a Ma On Shan serviced apartment. 

A raid on another Sai Kung house netted another 1.4kg of suspected cocaine, a small quantity of suspected cannabis as well as about US$100,000 and HK$1,500,000 in cash inside a safe.

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Hui Wai-ming, head of customs’ Drug Investigation Bureau, said they had reason to believe the operators were part of a larger transnational drug trafficking syndicate.

He said it was the first time customs had seen drugs smuggled in a noodle-maker.

Trafficking a dangerous drug carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a HK$5 million fine under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance.

Last year, out of a total of 1,158kg of drugs seized by customs, 145kg involved cocaine, a 41 per cent drop from 2016. Police, meanwhile, seized 402kg of cocaine, about 15 per cent less than in 2016.

In 2012, customs made a HK$760 million seizure of cocaine from a shipping container from Ecuador, its biggest ever haul.