Hong Kong customs officers believe they have dealt a heavy blow to an international smuggling syndicate following the seizure of HK$54 million worth of contraband cigarettes which arrived from Vietnam.
The 20 million Karelia cigarettes from Greece, hidden in two shipping containers, were the city’s biggest seizure in nearly a decade, according to a senior customs official.
The two containers, whose goods were declared as plastic boxes, arrived from Haiphong in Vietnam on Friday last week before being selected for inspection at the customs cargo examination compound in Tsing Yi on Wednesday.
“Our suspicions were raised because it was rare for such plastic boxes to be exported from Vietnam,” one source with knowledge of the case said.
“Officers seized 2,000 cartons of smuggled cigarettes behind layers of cartons that carried plastic boxes inside the two shipping containers.”
“It is the biggest seizure since 2007 when 21.5 million cigarettes were confiscated in a single operation,” said Parry Wu Yan-kit, acting head of the department’s revenue and general investigation bureau.
He said the haul had an estimated street value of HK$54 million and the duty potential was about HK$38 million. As they were Greek cigarettes and not popular in the city, Wu believed they were destined for Europe.
“Initial investigations showed the consignment arrived from Europe and it would have gone to different ports in a circuitous route before returning to Europe,” he said.
He believed the route was designed to evade law enforcement and avoid hefty taxes imposed by European countries. So far, no arrests have been made and investigations are continuing, according to the Customs and Excise Department.
Wu said they would work with their overseas counterparts to trace those behind the smuggled cigarettes and determine the final destination.
This appears to be an isolated case and there was no evidence to suggest Hong Kong had become a transit point for dutiable cigarettes.
Under the Import and Export Ordinance, smuggling carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a HK$2 million fine.
Under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, those involved in dealing with, possessing, selling and buying illicit cigarettes can be jailed for two years and fined HK$1 million.