More than 160 diamonds worth an estimated HK$6.5 million (US$840,000) have been seized during a Hong Kong customs inspection of a truck at a new border checkpoint, the largest bust of its kind in three years.
The Shenzhen-bound haul, wrapped in a plastic bag and stuffed in the driver’s trouser pocket, was to be smuggled through the Heung Yuen Wai control point to avoid stringent import restrictions and mainland Chinese taxes amounting to between 10 and 20 per cent of the precious stones’ value, according to a law enforcement source.
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The source said it followed a similar diamond-smuggling case from earlier in the year, prompting the local authorities to strengthen the inspection regime for cross-border vehicles at local control points amid fears that Covid-19 travel curbs were fuelling the illegal trade.
Last month, HK$1 million worth of rough diamonds were detected when a Hong Kong-bound vehicle was stopped for inspection at Lok Ma Chau control point.
The latest seizure was made at Heung Yuen Wai control point in northern Hong Kong on Thursday morning when a truck heading for Shenzhen was selected for a routine inspection. The border checkpoint opened in April.
“A plastic bag, carrying 162 diamonds, was seized from the pocket of the driver’s trousers,” the source said. “Each diamond weighs around one carat and the haul is worth about HK$6.5 million.”
A 33-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of attempting to export unmanifested cargo – an offence carrying a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$2 million fine.
In a follow-up raid of a Sham Shui Po flat on Thursday night, Customs and Excise Department officers arrested another man, also aged 33.
As of Friday afternoon, the two suspects were still being held for questioning and neither had been charged. Officers from customs’ syndicate crimes investigation bureau are handling the case.
The source said he believed the diamonds were being taken to factories over the border, where they would be turned into jewellery for sale on the mainland market.
He said mainland shoppers had been staying away from Hong Kong because of the mandatory quarantine orders and closure of major border checkpoints in place to counter the Covid-19 pandemic.
“But there is a high demand for luxury items such as diamonds and precious metal in mainland China and this creates a market for cross-border smugglers,” he said.
He said customs officers would also enhance the exchange of intelligence with their mainland counterparts to combat cross-border, diamond-smuggling activities.
Hong Kong customs foiled two diamond-running bids in 2019, seizing HK$1.17 million worth of the stones, but there were no reports of similar operations the year before.
Officers took possession of HK$18 million worth of diamonds in four cases from 2017. The biggest seizure in recent years was in June that year when officers confiscated HK$11 million worth of diamonds.
In March 2017, a smuggler was arrested after mainland officers found 1,000 diamonds hidden in his shoes at Luohu crossing, which links to Hong Kong’s Lo Wu control point. He was targeted for inspection because officers saw him walking on his tiptoes.
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