Hong Kong customs have arrested three men and confiscated HK$63 million (US$8 million) worth of contraband destined for mainland China, dealing a heavy blow to a cross-border smuggling syndicate.
The haul of electronics, delicacies such as bird’s nests and abalone along with other high-value products was found hidden in the secret compartments of three empty shipping containers last week, customs officials revealed on Friday.
Two of the containers were confiscated on board a mainland-bound cargo vessel after intelligence led officers to intercept the boat in Hong Kong waters on November 5.
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The third container was seized during a raid on a Yuen Long container yard, where the gang would store modified containers, repackage their cargo and hide the goods into secret compartments before making deliveries.
The mainland-registered river trade vessel, loaded with 17 containers, was intercepted in northwestern waters of Hong Kong near the maritime boundary with the mainland at about 3am last Friday. It was bound for Wanzai port in Zhuhai.
Customs officers discovered secret compartments in two of the eight empty containers. The other nine containers carried declared merchandise.
“The secret compartments were found holding smuggled goods after removing wooden flooring,” said assistant superintendent Lui Siu-fai, of customs’ syndicate crimes investigation bureau.
Also last Friday, customs officers raided the container yard in Yuen Long where they found five modified containers which they suspected were to be used for smuggling. One of the containers was also found with hidden goods in a secret compartment.
He said the contraband products uncovered in the three containers had an estimated street value of HK$63 million.
Two men aged 32 and 37 were arrested at the container yard last Friday while another man, 40, was detained this Wednesday. None of the seven mainland crew were arrested in the operation.
The three suspects have been released on bail pending further investigation. According to the Customs and Excise Department, the investigation was continuing and further arrests were possible.
Lui said Covid-19 restrictions were preventing mainland residents from crossing borders to shop for items.
“But there is a strong demand in mainland China for a variety of high-value products so smuggling syndicates stockpile the goods and try to smuggle them into the mainland by sea,” he said.
The seizure came about three weeks after Hong Kong customs confiscated HK$1.2 billion worth of contraband – the biggest haul in its 112-year history – hidden in 24 containers on a cargo vessel bound for the mainland.
Gangs began using cargo vessels instead of high-powered speedboats amid an ongoing crackdown on sea smuggling, after the death of Lam Yuen-yee, a senior police inspector who was killed trying to intercept a speedboat in September.
Superintendent Cheng Tak-hei said smugglers kept changing tactics in response to police operations, adding the force would continue exchanging intelligence with other departments in the fight against smuggling activities.
In the first 10 months of this year, customs seized HK$2.07 billion worth of contraband in 81 maritime smuggling cases. They confiscated HK$1.08 billion worth of such goods in the past two years.
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