Mainland Chinese authorities have arrested more than 100 people, confiscated hundreds of millions of dollars worth of meat, and impounded dozens of boats and vehicles, just days after Hong Kong customs officers similarly cracked down on a major smuggling ring operating out of the city.
In Guangdong province, officers from the China Coast Guard smashed a syndicate with the arrest of 119 people and the seizure of over 2,000 tonnes of frozen meat worth 200 million yuan (HK$224 million) between Monday and Tuesday.
“The meat was seized from 16 refrigerated warehouses in Foshan, Jiangmen and Dongguan,” said Senior Superintendent Mark Woo Wai-kwan, head of Hong Kong customs’ syndicate crimes investigation bureau.
Get the latest insights and analysis from our Global Impact newsletter on the big stories originating in China.
He said mainland law enforcers also impounded eight speedboats, three cargo vessels and 20 vehicles in the operation.
The Post has learned that the mainland syndicate was believed to be the major business partner of Hong Kong’s smuggling rackets, and was responsible for picking up deliveries of frozen meat from the city, and then storing and distributing it in mainland China.
In Hong Kong, customs officers struck a heavy blow against a suspected family-run smuggling racket with the arrest of 13 people and the seizure of HK$28 million worth of frozen meat and valuables, along with HK$15 million in cash, during a two-day operation last week.
The Customs and Excise Department used organised crime laws to freeze 76 bank accounts – held by alleged members of the syndicate and their companies – with balances amounting to HK$27 million.
Woo said the department would also consider applying for a court order to confiscate a further HK$120 million in assets – eight flats and three parking spaces – believed to be linked to the syndicate’s money-laundering activities.
He said the 13 suspects picked up in the city included the alleged ringleader, his wife, his three siblings and his brother-in-law.
Superintendent Grace Tang Wai-ngan, of the syndicate crimes bureau, said officers began investigating the gang after receiving intelligence early this year.
“It is suspected that the syndicate collected crime proceeds through cash and third party individuals. The syndicate then transferred crime proceeds to bank accounts of the syndicate’s members and the companies held by the syndicate,” she said.
“After that, they are believed to have laundered the money through cash transfers and purchase of residential properties and parking spaces in order to conceal the crime proceeds.”
Last Thursday night, customs officers intercepted a barge and a tugboat off Lung Kwu Chau in northwestern Hong Kong waters. Four men were arrested on board the two vessels, and 160 tonnes of frozen beef worth HK$25 million were seized.
The alleged ringleader, his wife, siblings and brother-in-law were among nine more people picked up when more than 250 customs officers raided 13 locations, including seven offices and four flats, last Friday.
During the raids, officers seized HK$15 million in cash and HK$3 million in valuables such as gold bars, jewellery and luxury watches. Included in the cash was about HK$10 million stored in two shopping bags seized from the home of the alleged ringleader in Kowloon.
Senior Superintendent Woo said the value of the seized goods and cash, as well as the suspects’ assets, totalled around HK$190 million – the largest amount involved in this kind of smuggling case in the past five years.
The senior superintendent said they were still investigating how long the Hong Kong gang had been in operation, and whether it was linked with the mainland syndicate.
“Hong Kong Customs will continue the intelligence exchange and cooperation with mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies. We spare no effort to combat such illegal activities,” he said.
All the Hong Kong suspects have been released on bail, pending further investigation.
A law enforcement source said he believed the maritime smuggling of frozen meat in western Hong Kong waters would die down after the busts, though they would continue to monitor the situation and take enforcement action.
So far this year, customs officers have seized over 2,800 tonnes of frozen meat worth some HK$120 million, a more than sevenfold increase from the 330 tonnes seized in the same period last year.