Luxury haul as smuggling ring smashed

Local | Erin Chan 11 Jun 2021

Customs officers have busted the largest speedboat smuggling ring to the mainland with the seizure of luxury goods, including watches and handbags, and dried seafood worth HK$120 million early this month.

Four local men, including a central member of the syndicate, aged between 35 and 62, were arrested, held for smuggling and importing or exporting an endangered species without a license on June 2.

The arrests and seizure are part of a joint anti-smuggling operation with mainland customs, codenamed "Xun Lei," that has been ongoing since March.

The four have been released on bail pending investigations and should report back with the police in September.

They procured goods from around the world before repackaging and smuggling them to the mainland on speedboats.

In the Hong Kong-based operation, 66,000 luxury watches, handbags and pairs of sneakers, 2,300 kilograms of bird's nest, fish maw, sea cucumber and shark fins, plus wine and cigars and 186 kilograms of stingray gills and cactus were seized from a lorry, three warehouses and a residential unit in the New Territories.

The operation hit top gear last Wednesday after customs officers spotted a lorry heading for a Lau Fau Shan beach, where a speedboat was berthed.

The head of the customs' special investigation group, Rita Li Yim-ping, said the smugglers, upon discovering they were being chased, jumped aboard the speedboat and fled toward the mainland, leaving the lorry behind.

Officers followed up with raids on three warehouses and a residential unit in the New Territories, arresting the four suspects.

Li said security was tight in the warehouses, with multiple CCTVs installed.

"We also found beds inside the warehouses, in which we believe packers repackaging the smuggled goods stayed overnight," she said.

The head of customs' syndicate crimes investigation bureau, Mark Woo Wai-kwan, said the ring also used speedboats and drones to patrol around unloading points.

Woo said the suspects smuggled the goods so as to evade mainland taxes.

The assistant commissioner of customs' intelligence and investigation, Chan Tsz-tat, said 34 smuggling cases involving the use of vessels have been smashed this year - a 10 percent increase from the same period last year.

"And the smuggled goods seized this year as of yesterday reached HK$420 million in value - 1.3 times that recorded in the same period last year."

Customs said the goods seized in the latest case, along with those seized by the mainland authorities, totaled HK$180 million.

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