Hong Kong customs officers confiscated HK$29 million (US$3.7 million) worth of black-market cigarettes with the arrest of a porter over the weekend, bringing the total value of the contraband tobacco seized this month to more than HK$150 million.
The January figure was approaching that of the whole of 2019, when HK$151 million worth of illegal cigarettes were confiscated. That amount soared by 270 per cent to some HK$560 million last year.
The latest haul was seized around 8pm on Sunday, when a 50-year-old man was found loading boxes of cigarettes from a container onto a truck in an open area near Fung Kat Heung in Yuen Long.
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During the operation, customs officers confiscated about 10.6 million of illicit cigarettes and arrested the man in connection with the case.
“An investigation is ongoing. Customs will continue to trace the source and the flow of the illicit cigarettes,” the Customs and Excise Department said in a statement, adding that the possibility of further arrests could not be ruled out.
As of Monday afternoon, the suspect was still being held for questioning and had not been charged. In Hong Kong, possessing, selling or buying illicit cigarettes carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a HK$1 million fine.
A law enforcement source said the investigation indicated the consignment was for local consumption.
“We believe the seized cigarettes were intended to supplement the black market and meet demand in the city ahead of the Lunar New Year after customs officers made three major seizures of illicit cigarettes since mid-January,” the source said.
On January 15, customs officers seized HK$26 million worth of black-market cigarettes in a metal shed in the Ping Che area of Ta Kwu Ling.
Four days later, HK$46 million worth of contraband cigarettes were confiscated in another shed in the Ping Che area in a joint operation by police and customs officers.
On the following day, customs officers seized HK$47.5 million worth of illicit cigarettes in two shipping containers from Thailand. The two containers were declared to be carrying plastic materials.
In the first 24 days of 2021, more than HK$150 million worth of contraband cigarettes were seized – about one-fourth of what law enforcers seized in the whole of 2020.