Bold gangs take advantage of HK protests and stretched police resources to smuggle more luxury goods between city and mainland China

30-Oct-2019 Intellasia | AFP | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Smugglers are taking advantage of anti-government protests in Hong Kong to traffic luxury goods between the city and mainland China over water, while police attention is focused on the increasing civil unrest on land, the Post has learned.

Officers believe one of the syndicates, headed by a well-known triad gangster, uses speedboats to smuggle electronic products across the border on a daily basis, sources said.

According to the sources, gangs had been emboldened as there were fewer patrols and anti-smuggling operations by marine police, whose resources had been drafted in to deal with violent anti-government protests in the city that have rocked the city for months.

Describing the syndicate as well-organised, one source said: “It runs a one-stop service that includes the purchase of electronic products as well as cross-border delivery.”

The operation aims to avoid import restrictions and hefty mainland Chinese taxes, which account for up to 45 per cent of the cost of the goods.

In the past, the gang made one or two illegal shipments a week, but that had now become a daily delivery schedule, and sometimes the gang “made illegal deliveries two times a night”, the source said, adding the gang could have made at least HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) a month.

The Post has been told the gang operates on Lantau Island, making good use of different loading sites along the coastline.

The source admitted there was difficulty in combating the illegal operation, and said the gang changed its loading sites every night to avoid being caught, and carried out countersurveillance before each delivery.

“They use motorised boats to patrol the sea and have lookouts to reconnoitre their loading sites and nearby areas to ensure officers have not laid an ambush,” the source said.

“They also deploy vehicles to block access to loading areas so their porters have enough time to dump goods on the shore and flee in speedboats in case of raids by law enforcement.”

Another source said at least two other syndicates using speedboats had also become active in cross-border smuggling. Law enforcement agencies were still gathering intelligence on the two gangs.

The second source said more than 20 waterfront sites, including Wong Shek pier in Sai Kung, Siu Ho Wan on Lantau, and jetties at Lau Fau Shan were known to be used as loading docks by smugglers across the city. From Lau Fau Shan, speedboats can leave Hong Kong waters in a matter of minutes.

To combat smuggling activities, the Customs and Excise Department has enhanced enforcement operations.

On October 17, officers from the department’s marine enforcement group made their biggest bust of the year at sea, with the seizure of HK$20 million worth of electronic goods destined for mainland China.

But seven smugglers managed to elude four high-speed pursuit craft and flee in a speedboat heading for mainland China. It was the third such operation this month.

Between June 1 and October 23 this year, customs detected 22 cases of smuggling at sea, and seized more than HK$40 million worth of goods. There were 24 cases involving the seizure of goods with a total value of HK$60 million between June and October last year.

Law enforcement agencies often find they are playing catch-up with the gangs, who use speedboats equipped with outboard engines exceeding 300 horsepower that can reach speeds of 50 knots, and are usually quicker than the craft chasing them.

Customs in Hong Kong has recently deployed two new high-speed pursuit craft to improve their chances of catching the smugglers, and two more will come into service later this year. The four vessels cost HK$78 million.

The 18-metre boats, which were built in mainland China, can top 57 knots and are equipped with a water jet propulsion system that assures good manoeuvrability and emergency crash stop operation.

So far this year, customs officers have seized HK$75 million worth of luxury goods in 49 sea-smuggling cases. In the first 10 months of 2018, there were 51 cases with the seizure of HK$120 million worth of goods.

A department spokesman said that overall, smuggling at sea was continuing its downward trend of the past couple of years.

“While speedboats and fishing vessels are commonly used for smuggling between Hong Kong and the mainland, smugglers also constantly shift their loading and unloading spots and take different routes hoping to evade detection,” he said.

To combat this, he said officers patrolled around the clock in Hong Kong waters and high-speed pursuit craft were used to intercept speedboats involved in smuggling.

In Hong Kong, importing or exporting unmanifested cargo carries a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$2 million fine.


Category: Hong Kong

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