The Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr Clement Cheung, said today (January 29) at the 2013 year-end review that the Department had demonstrated the fine tradition of professionalism and dedication and attained satisfying achievements in both law enforcement and trade facilitation in the past year.
For revenue collection on dutiable commodities, duty collected by the department in 2013 amounted to $9.2 billion, representing an increase of 6.4 per cent over 2012. Among them, 59 per cent was from tobacco products ($5.4 billion), 37 per cent from hydrocarbon oil ($3.4 billion), and the rest from alcoholic products ($0.4 billion).
Mr Cheung said that the Department detected a total of 282 smuggling cases last year with seizures worth $652 million, representing an increase of approximately 40 per cent and 90 per cent respectively compared with 2012. He said that as smuggling between the Mainland and Hong Kong had been on the rise and had become more complex, the Financial Investigation Group and the Special Task Force were merged to form the Syndicate Crimes Investigation Bureau in early 2013, whereas joint operations with the Mainland and overseas law enforcement agencies were conducted for improved effectiveness.
Since the implementation of export control on powdered formula for infants and young children in March last year, approximately 4 300 cases have been detected with over 33 000 kilogrammes of powdered formula seized at various control points as at December 2013. Mr Cheung said that the Department would continue to liaise closely with its Mainland counterpart and spare no efforts in combating parallel trading activities.
On endangered species, 192 cases involving ivory tusks and ivory products, rhino horns, leopard skin, pangolin carcass and scale and dried sea horses were seized last year. It is worth noting that the quantity and value of ivory tusks seized drastically increased by 43 per cent and 115 per cent respectively when compared with those of 2012. This proves Hong Kong's dedication and perseverance in shouldering its international obligations.
For anti-narcotics work, the Department detected a total of 518 cases and seized 445 kilogrammes of various kinds of drugs, 75 per cent of which were effected at Hong Kong International Airport. As for the cases involving controlled chemicals used for drug manufacturing, the number of cases increased two times over 2012 to 33, the majority of which were related to pseudoephedrine. Mr Cheung said the Department would set up a dedicated team to strengthen external liaison and intelligence exchange for maintaining high enforcement effectiveness.
In 2013, Customs seized a total of 89 million sticks of illicit cigarettes, representing a 17 per cent increase over 2012. The number of significant cases involving the interception of over 500,000 sticks of illicit cigarettes increased by nearly 50 per cent, while public complaints dropped by around 40 per cent. Mr Cheung said as a result of targeting enforcement efforts at source, street peddling greatly diminished whereas large storehouses had been gradually replaced by mini storage or residential premises to lower the risks. The Department will tackle the issue with a holistic approach and deployment of the two Telephone Order Task Units comprising 26 officers.
On intellectual property rights protection, the number of infringement cases detected last year increased by 30 per cent to 720, of which 88 per cent involved counterfeit goods. Mr Cheung said with the growing popularity of the Internet and rapid growth of e-commerce, the cases of online sale of counterfeit goods and that of delivering infringing goods by courier services surged by 1.7 and 1.5 times respectively. The Department has strengthened communication with Hong Kong Post and is liaising with the logistics industry to address the issue at source.
In addition, the Electronic Crime Investigation Centre set up early last year is formulating strategies and procedural guidelines on evidence collection, and providing in-depth training for frontline investigation officers. Last month, the "Lineament Monitoring System I+" was also developed for the purpose of monitoring cases involving Cyberlockers.
On supervision of money service, a total of 11 cases of unlicensed operation of money service were prosecuted and 12 persons were arrested last year. The licensing system is operating satisfactorily. Mr Cheung said compliance inspection to licensees had started since last month for monitoring purposes.
Last year, $8.1 billion of government revenue was collected from motor vehicle first registration tax to support public services. In an effort to protect this important source of revenue for the SAR Government, the Department prosecuted 57 distributors, involving 297 motor vehicles with fines imposed on the defendants ranging from several thousand dollars to $970,000. Mr Cheung said the Department had internally optimised the information system and database, coupled with risk-based on-site verification to monitor market activities. Promotional activities would be carried out with the Transport Department shortly and a mobile app for checking the approved retail prices of motor vehicles would be launched.
Mr Cheung said a total of 15 enterprises had been accredited under the Authorized Economic Operator Programme implemented 20 months ago and seven applications were being processed. Mutual Recognition Arrangements (MRA) with the Mainland Customs and the India Customs were signed last year. The Department would soon sign similar MRAs with the Customs authorities of Korea and Singapore, and embark on negotiations with other principal trading partners such as Malaysia, Thailand and New Zealand.
On consumer protection, the Department received a total of 635 complaints involving short weighing activities and prosecution was taken against 149 cases last year. There were 183 complaints concerning product safety, among which 28 were related to toys and children's products and nine were prosecuted. A total of 2 360 complaints relating to the Trade Descriptions Ordinance were received last year, of which 85 per cent were recorded after the newly amended Ordinance came into effect on July 19, 2013. The ratio of complaints on goods to service was 3:1.
Mr Cheung said there was wide coverage on the newly amended Ordinance in the society. The Department would continue to implement the three-pronged strategies of prevention, education and enforcement, and set up a special duty team to tackle unfair trade practices of more complicated nature.
Concluding his speech, Mr Cheung said that in view of the gradual extension of duties and continuous changes in the surrounding environment, the Department would adopt a positive attitude towards possible situations. As a law enforcement agency, the Department would stay alert with foresight in the discharge of duties with flexibility and skills.
Also speaking at today's year-end review, the Deputy Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr Luke Au Yeung, said that in order to combat transnational drugs trafficking, the Department would set up a dedicated team to foster liaison and intelligence exchange with the Mainland and overseas enforcement agencies. Enforcement at source would be able to curb the inflow of drugs to Hong Kong or other destinations via Hong Kong, further enhancing the Department's drug detection capability at the Hong Kong International Airport and land boundary control points.
He said that the Department would also strengthen partnership with airlines, the logistics and transport sectors for information on drug activities so as to combat syndicates' use of such channels. In-depth investigations on drug trafficking at different levels, including import and export, distribution, manufacturing and peddling, would be conducted. The Department has also set up a database "COMPASS" with drug trafficking information and would maintain close exchange with the International Narcotic Control Board for intelligence on controlled chemicals.
On illicit cigarettes, Mr Au Yeung said the Department would continue to intercept the supply chain by intelligence analysis and co-operation with the logistics and transport trades for enforcement at source.
On the newly amended Trade Descriptions Ordinance (Ordinance), Mr Au Yeung said that enforcement would be carried out under an intelligence-led and risk-based approach. Priority would be accorded to high-risk infringing cases and conduct involving significant financial detriment to consumers.
A special duty team set up by flexibly deploying departmental resources will tackle cases involving complicated modus operandi or organised unfair trade practices, with a view to providing consumers with more comprehensive protection, he added.
Ends/Wednesday, January 29 2014