Hong Kong customs seized contraband cigarettes worth more than HK$560 million this year, up 270 per cent from 2019

Clifford Lo
·3-min read

Hong Kong customs has confiscated more than HK$560 million (US$72 million) worth of contraband cigarettes this year, up 270 per cent from the HK$151 million in seizures made in 2019.

But the number of cases has dropped by nearly 83 per cent, from 17,368 in the whole of last year to 3,012 so far this year.

Senior Superintendent Lee Kam-wing, head of customs’ revenue crimes investigation bureau, attributed the drastic drop in the number of the cases to the closure of major border checkpoints due to Covid-19.

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“Due to the closure, the sea route is being targeted to smuggle illicit cigarettes into the city instead of using cross-border vehicles and human couriers,” he said.

The seizures rose sharply because shipping containers were usually used in the maritime smuggling of illegal tobacco products and carried larger volumes of the contraband, Lee said. One container can carry up to 10 million cigarettes.

Customs smokes out HK$300 million in illegal cigarettes in first half of 2020

This year, customs officers detected four major maritime smuggling cases, each involving the seizure of more than 10 million illegal cigarettes. There was only one such case in 2019.

One of the cases this year involved more than 32 million illicit cigarettes seized in four shipping containers from Japan in February. The haul was the largest of its kind in two decades.

As of Thursday, more than 204 million contraband cigarettes worth HK$561 million had been seized so far this year, compared to about 55 million cigarettes – valued at HK$151 million – in the whole of last year.

Part of the haul was meant for local consumption, while the rest was destined for other countries Photo: Dickson Lee
Part of the haul was meant for local consumption, while the rest was destined for other countries Photo: Dickson Lee

The Customs and Excise Department said part of the haul was meant for local consumption, while the rest was destined for other countries.

The latest seizure was made on Thursday when officers arrested 11 men and confiscated HK$33 million worth of illegal cigarettes in a commercial building in Kwun Tong.

More than 50 officers swooped into action at about 4pm when boxes of cigarettes were being loaded into a truck on the ground floor of a building on Hung To Road.

Four of the suspects, believed to be the core members of the syndicate, were detained in one of the units in the building, which was used as a storage centre. Investigators believed the syndicate had been operating for about a month.

Nearly HK$180 million worth of illegal cigarettes seized in Hong Kong

“To avoid detection, trucks were sent to collect contraband cigarettes within six hours after the goods arrived at the commercial building,” Lee said. Officers were investigating the source of the goods.

In Hong Kong, dealing or possessing illicit cigarettes carries a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a HK$1 million fine.

Lee said officers would keep up their enforcement strategy targeting the smuggling, storage, distribution and peddling of illicit cigarettes and continue intelligence exchange and cooperation with their overseas counterparts.

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