More than 5,500 people, ranging from triad leaders to children as young as 11, were rounded up in Hong Kong, Macau and Guangdong province during a seven-week joint operation, police revealed on Monday.
The annual crackdown targeting triad activities and organised crime, code-named “Thunderbolt 2021”, was carried out in two phases, from June 6 to July 11, then from August 16 to 30.
In Hong Kong, 2,320 people aged between 11 and 84 were arrested for a variety of offences including drug trafficking, deception, bookmaking and money laundering, according to the force. During the operation, Hong Kong police seized HK$390 million (US$50 million) in cash, narcotics and contraband goods.
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Chief Superintendent Ryan Wong Wai of the organised crime and triad bureau (OCTB) said more than 1,100 people were also detained in neighbouring Guangdong, while another 2,100 were arrested or taken to police stations in Macau.
Backed by officers from customs, immigration and fire services, Hong Kong police raided nearly 2,000 locations across the city, including drug storage centres, unlicensed pubs, gambling dens and vice establishments.
An annual occurrence since 2000, the joint crackdown is viewed as a “clean-up” campaign ahead of National Day festivities on October 1. In 2018, police arrested more than 4,000 people and raided about 6,300 locations across the city in an operation that ran between May 15 and August 15.
A police source said that despite the city being hit by social unrest in 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the annual operation was carried out in both years, although on a smaller scale. In 2014, the crackdown was suspended because of the pro-democracy Occupy protests.
Wong said OCTB officers broke up two triad-controlled bookmaking operations during the massive sweep this summer, arresting 40 people and seizing HK$3.6 billion in betting records on football matches and horse racing.
Officers also seized HK$21 million in cash and froze bank accounts containing HK$19.5 million in suspected crime proceeds. “The HK$3.6 billion in illegal bets was the largest amount of betting records police seized in a decade,” he said.
Wong added it was possible that illegal gambling activities were on the rise locally because of border closures sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
Under the city’s Gambling Ordinance, anyone convicted of bookmaking faces a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$5 million fine. But Wong warned that even placing an illegal bet was punishable by up to nine months’ jail and a HK$30,000 fine.
The summer crackdown’s youngest suspect was an 11-year-old boy who was arrested last month for assault in connection with a triad dispute, according to Senior Superintendent Chung Lai-yee of the Kowloon East regional crime unit.
Separately, her officers also took down eight cross-border syndicates whose members had swindled HK$130 million from their victims by posing as officials, with one elderly person losing HK$69 million.
The arrests for money-laundering and deception followed an exchange of intelligence with mainland Chinese authorities and involved the freezing of HK$12 million in alleged illegal proceeds.
Marine police, meanwhile, detected four human-trafficking cases in which undocumented immigrants were smuggled into the city from the mainland. Police arrested 17 people across the four cases, including 11 mainlanders who were being smuggled into the city and four Vietnamese.
In the Kowloon West region, police closed down 26 gambling dens and nine unlicensed pubs with the seizure of nearly HK$7.6 million worth of drugs.
The massive operation also saw about 3,000 people fined HK$5,000 each for violating social-distancing regulations aimed at controlling the spread of Covid-19.
Wong said overall crime dropped 4.6 per cent to 32,345 cases in the first half of 2021 from 30,871 in the same period last year while the detention rate rose 3.6 percentage points to 35.7 per cent.
Asked about crime trend changes in the coronavirus era, Wong said: “The pandemic is a new thing for us. We are still closely monitoring crime trends and as far as we reckon there is not a particular type of crime that is on the rise.”
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