Hong Kong Customs mounts three-week special anti-illicit cigarette operation and seizes suspected illicit cigarettes worth about $250 million (with photo)

17 Mar 2023

​Hong Kong Customs mounted a special operation codenamed "Tempest" over the past three weeks to combat illicit cigarette activities on all fronts across the territory and detected a total of 119 relevant cases. Over 68 million suspected illicit cigarettes in total and about six kilograms of suspected duty-not-paid manufactured tobacco, with an estimated market value of about $250 million and a duty potential of about $170 million, were seized. During the whole special operation, Customs arrested 78 persons who were aged between 15 and 88.

At the cross-boundary smuggling level, Customs detected three large-scale illicit cigarette smuggling cases during the operation. First, about 27 million and about 24 million suspected illicit cigarettes were seized on February 23 and March 3 respectively. Customs officers then conducted a further investigation and intercepted a container truck on Cheung Fai Road in Tsing Yi on March 12. About 11 million suspected illicit cigarettes were further seized inside the container. A total of about 62 million suspected illicit cigarettes with an estimated market value of about $230 million and a duty potential of about $160 million were seized by Customs officers in the three cases. Customs also arrested seven men suspected to be connected with the cases.

At the storage, distribution and peddling level, Customs continues to step up enforcement to combat illicit cigarette activities in town, including illicit cigarette telephone ordering activities in public rental housing (PRH). Customs officers detected 116 relevant cases in different districts, including Chai Wan, North Point, Sheung Wan, Aberdeen, Pok Fu Lam, Sau Mau Ping, Tsz Wan Shan, Ngau Tau Kok, Wong Tai Sin, Shek Kip Mei, To Kwa Wan, Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po, Cheung Sha Wan, Kwun Tong, Yau Tong, Tseung Kwan O , Kwai Chung, Tsuen Wan, Tsing Yi, Ma On Shan, Yuen Long and Tuen Mun, and seized about 6.6 million suspected illicit cigarettes and about 6 kg of suspected duty-not-paid manufactured tobacco. At the same time, Customs officers have raided seven suspected illicit cigarette storage centres and detained four vehicles suspected to be used for illicit cigarette distribution. Sixty-one men and 10 women were arrested.

All the above-mentioned cases have been duly followed up. Customs will continue to trace the source and flow of the illicit cigarettes. The likelihood of further arrests is not ruled out.

Customs will continue to step up enforcement to vigorously combat illicit cigarette activities through risk assessment, intelligence analysis and interception at source. If PRH units are found to be involved in illicit cigarette activities, Customs will notify the Housing Department for follow-up action after the conclusion of court proceedings.

Smuggling is a serious offence. Under the Import and Export Ordinance, any person found guilty of importing or exporting unmanifested cargo is liable to a maximum fine of $2 million and imprisonment for seven years.

Customs reminds members of the public that it is an offence to buy or sell illicit cigarettes. Under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, anyone involved in dealing with, possession of, selling or buying illicit cigarettes commits an offence. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $1 million and imprisonment for two years.

Members of the public may report any suspected illicit cigarette activities to Customs' 24-hour hotline 2545 6182 or its dedicated crime-reporting email account (crimereport@customs.gov.hk).

Ends/Friday, March 17, 2023

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