HONG KONG: Hong Kong customs officers seized HK$8.2 million (US$1 million) worth of contraband cigarettes, which were hidden in four shipping containers from Malaysia last week. Lau Yuk-lung, who heads the city’s customs division investigating illicit cigarettes, said an initial investigation showed the consignment containing more than 300 cartons of cigarettes was not intended for local consumption. It was one of their biggest hauls of illegal cigarettes. “We believe the haul was bound for Taiwan because it carried health warnings written in traditional Chinese and used by Taiwanese authorities,” he said. The four containers were unloaded from a ship that arrived from Malaysia and berthed at a container terminal in Kwai Chung on Monday last week.
According to the Customs and Excise Department, the contents were listed in the import documents as second-hand vehicle parts and plastic beads. When no one came forward to collect the consignment, the containers were opened for inspection on Monday and found to be packed with more than 100 sacks of vehicle parts and plastic beads. Describing the search as “treasure hunting”, Lau said 34 out of 108 bags were found to contain cartons of contraband cigarettes mixed with the other contents. “Eighteen bags carried vehicle parts and cartons of cigarettes in two of the containers and another 16 bags contained plastic beads and boxes of cigarettes in the other two containers,” he said. He said a total of 304 cartons of untaxed cigarettes were found in 34 sacks.
Instead of shipping the cigarettes directly from Malaysia to Taiwan, Lau believed smugglers used the route in an effort to avoid detection. So far, no arrests have been made. Investigations are continuing. Lau said they would investigate the source of the contraband cigarettes and track down the consignee. He said the consignment was this year’s largest haul of untaxed cigarettes smuggled into the city by sea. Last year’s biggest case was discovered in September when customs officers seized HK$54 million worth of illicit cigarettes hidden in two containers from Vietnam. Under the Import and Export Ordinance, smuggling carries a maximum penalty of a seven years’ imprisonment and a HK$2 million fine. Members of the public may report any suspected illicit cigarette activities to the Customs 24-hour hotline on 2545 6182.