Hong Kong customs officers said they smashed a transnational drug smuggling syndicate on Monday, seizing a HK$30 million (US$3.8 million) stash of cocaine and making three arrests.
The latest operation was the third large cocaine raid mounted by customs this year and the authorities admitted smuggling of the drug was a serious problem.
In the first six months of 2018, police and customs officers seized a total of 355kg of cocaine – almost double the 180kg haul in the same period last year.
The trio will appear at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts on Thursday morning charged with trafficking in a dangerous drug and manufacturing of a dangerous drug.
The 26kg of suspected cocaine in 36 packs was found hidden in the door rims of a 20-foot container which arrived at Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound from Colombia on August 22.
Chan Tsz-tat, head of customs’ ports and maritime command, said the shipping document declared the container held 1.4 tonnes of wooden baffles worth about US$2,800.
Suspicious of the origins, weight and value of the declared items, officers examined the container by X-ray and found the colour around the rims of the doors was deeper.
“The items inside the container were just empty wooden boxes of poor quality instead of wooden baffles,” Chan said on Wednesday. “When officers knocked on the doors, the sound was different. The rims were completely sealed and we were not able to find anything. We passed the case to the customs drug investigation bureau for further investigation.”
Customs tailed the container to a metal shack in Yuen Long where they arrested the 32-year-old driver, a 52-year-old South American man and another 32-year-old local man.
Customs later seized 1kg of suspected crack cocaine and drug production tools at a Mong Kok flat, which was thought to be a drug manufacturing centre.
Lee Kam-wing, acting head of the drug investigation bureau, believed the drug was intended for local consumption.
“The situation of smuggling cocaine into Hong Kong is indeed getting serious,” Lee said.
In late June, customs officers shut down a narcotics storehouse at a discrete, upscale Tuen Mun housing estate, seizing an HK$80 million stash of illegal drugs and making one arrest.
A total of 79kg of suspected cocaine and about 1kg of suspected methamphetamine – or “Ice” – was seized from the 400 sq ft, two-bedroom flat in the agency’s biggest cocaine raid in five years.
A 52-year-old Hong Kong man who was a core member of a local drug ring and in charge of guarding the cache, was arrested during the morning raid following a week-long operation, customs said then, adding that the ringleaders behind the drugs operation were still at large.
In March, officers also seized an estimated HK$32.5 million worth of 30kg 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.
Trafficking in a dangerous drug carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a HK$5 million fine under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance.