Customs conducts special operation against illicit cigarettes before Chinese New Year (with photos)

12 Feb 2015

In a special operation code-named "Hunter" mounted by Hong Kong Customs to combat illicit cigarette activities before the Chinese New Year, 163 suspected cases of illicit cigarettes were detected. The operation was conducted at all fronts, including stringent enforcement from the boundary to downtown areas and the sea. The cases detected involved 164 persons, comprising 109 men and 55 women aged between 19 and 68. Four illicit cigarette storehouses and a mobile storage point were smashed. About 2.5 million sticks of suspected illicit cigarettes were seized. The market value of the cigarettes was about $6.6 million with a duty potential of about $4.8 million. Customs believes that the operation has successfully smashed illicit cigarette syndicates and disrupted their supply chain in the territory. The operation is still under way.

On interception of illicit cigarettes into Hong Kong, while anticipating that smugglers would take advantage of the busy traffic at the boundary control points to sneak in illicit cigarettes, Customs officers were deployed at Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau Spur Line Control Points and along the railway stations to conduct blitz action against suspected passengers and inspection of their baggage. A total of 125 cases were detected involving 1.2 million sticks of suspected illicit cigarettes. During the operation, Customs also detected another case mobilising a sampan to smuggle illicit cigarettes into the territory by sea. A total of 1.15 million sticks of suspected cigarettes were seized at Tai Sang Wai, Yuen Long, with the arrest of a man.

At the distribution and storage level, five cases were detected including four storehouses and a mobile storage point smashed by Customs, with seizure of 1.26 million sticks of suspected illicit cigarettes. In a case detected at Tai Po, Customs officers seized a total of 970 000 sticks of suspected illicit cigarettes in two light goods vehicles with the arrest of two men. Customs believes that an active syndicate supplying illicit cigarettes in the district was smashed and its supply chain has been disrupted.

At the peddling level, Customs conducted frequent raid operations at different locations of the territory with intelligence gathered and detected 33 cases with the seizure of 40 000 sticks of suspected illicit cigarettes. Telephone ordering of illicit cigarettes remains predominant, amounting to about 80 per cent of these cases. Customs' dedicated team will continue to analyse intelligence in hand and work out enforcement action. In addition, the team will co-operate with the Housing Department, the Estate Management Offices and the front-line staff through the "Joint Effort with Community against Illicit Cigarettes" initiative with a view to widening the intelligence network and combating telephone ordering of illicit cigarette activities.

A Customs spokesman said today (February 12), "The operation shows the effectiveness of Customs' enforcement strategy. Customs will continue to carry out stringent enforcement against illicit cigarette activities on all fronts, including at the smuggling, storage, distribution and peddling levels. During the Chinese New Year period, Customs will continue to spare no effort to monitor and crack down on illicit cigarette activities for protection of government revenue."

Under the Import and Export Ordinance, smuggling is a serious offence. The maximum penalty is a fine of $2 million and imprisonment for seven years.

Under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, anyone involved in dealing with, possession of, selling or buying illicit cigarettes commits an offence. The maximum penalty is a fine of $1 million and imprisonment for two years.

Members of the public are urged to report any suspected illicit cigarette activities to the Customs hotline at 2545 6182.

Ends/Thursday, February 12, 2015

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