Authorities smash fake-mask con

Local | Wallis Wang 3 Jul 2020

The government had been misled into purchasing more than 6.7 million surgical masks with suspected false trade descriptions and have distributed half of them to various departments before discovering that they were substandard.

Four people have been arrested by customs officers for supplying the masks to the government logistics department.

The suspects, two men and two women aged between 36 and 44 who work for two different suppliers, were arrested on June 24 in a customs operation codenamed "Guardian" for contravening the Trade Descriptions Ordinance.

In a statement yesterday, customs said the government logistics department bought the masks in March and more than three million masks have been distributed to 11 government departments - including the social welfare department, food and environmental hygiene department and disciplined services - before the problem was spotted. The rest of the masks are still in stock.

The masks were imported from the mainland by one of the suppliers and transferred to a second company, which then sold them to the government in batches.

Upon receiving a report, customs searched the two companies in Kwun Tong and Hung Hom on June 24.

The masks bear the name of a Canadian brand, Medicom, but its trademark was not registered in Hong Kong. The head of trade controls in the customs department, Mak Yuk-kam, believes that the suppliers were trying to mislead consumers.

The packaging of the masks contained information about a mainland manufacturer, including its name and factory address, but customs said the masks were not produced by the company.

Customs also found discrepancies between the unregistered Medicom masks and the genuine imported version.

The masks involved in the case had different colors compared to the original ones. Differences can also be found in the shape of the ear loop strings and the material used for the nose clip.

Mak said the investigation is still ongoing and there could be more arrests.

He added that the masks were not found in retail stores in Hong Kong, but shop owners should suspend sales and notify customs if they have them in stock.

The government logistics department has informed all government departments to stop using the masks and is liaising with them to recall the masks for further handling. The "Guardian" operation has been ongoing for over five months, aiming to examine surgical masks and other anti-epidemic products in Hong Kong.

Customs officers have inspected more than 35,000 retail stores and 61 people have been arrested.

They found 13 cases related to suspected false trade descriptions and 11 cases violating the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance.

More than 120,000 face masks were involved in those cases.

Mak said the "Guardian" operation will continue, depending on how the pandemic develops, and customs will keep looking for defective protective products and notify the public.

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