Man jailed for importing dutiable cigarettes

5 Jan 2004

A 73-year-old man has been sentenced to two months' imprisonment for importing dutiable commodities without a licence, and fined $300 for failing to make a declaration to Customs.

The court heard that the man was found in possession of 7,800 sticks of undeclared cigarettes when he arrived at Lo Wu Control Point on October 2, 2003.

A spokesman for the Customs and Excise Department said it was the first case of a passenger being charged with importing dutiable commodities instead of possession of dutiable goods. "It is believed that the sentence of imprisonment will have a strong deterrent effect on potential offenders."

The spokesman reminded Hong Kong residents not to bring into Hong Kong an excess amount of duty-free cigarettes or they might face prosecution or penalties.

Under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, a returning Hong Kong resident aged 18 or above, who has spent 24 hours or longer outside the territory, may bring in free of duty 60 cigarettes for his/her own use.

Possession of undeclared dutiable cigarettes in excess of the duty-free concession is an offence. The maximum penalty is a fine of $1 million and two years' imprisonment.

Under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, an incoming passenger at a control point shall declare to a Customs officer the quantity of dutiable cigarettes in his/her possession which is in excess of the duty-free concession. He/she may bring into Hong Kong those cigarettes after payment of duty.

If an incoming passenger makes a false or incomplete declaration, he/she may either be prosecuted, or fined under the "Compounding Scheme".

Under the "Compounding Scheme", a person is required to pay a penalty five times the equivalent of the duty payable on the dutiable goods concerned plus a fine of $2,000. If the duty payable on the dutiable goods concerned exceeds $10,000, or if a person has been compounded for five times or more in the preceding two years, he/she will be prosecuted.

Between December 19, 2003 and January 2, Customs officers at Lo Wu Control Point detected 71 cases of returning local residents abusing the cigarette duty-free concession.

The officers arrested 71 people and seized a total 29,740 sticks of dutiable cigarettes, worth $47,584 and with a duty potential of about $23,910.

The spokesman stressed that Customs officers at all control points had stepped up checks on incoming passengers to prevent abuse of the cigarette duty-free concession.

Plain-clothed Customs officers will patrol arrival areas of control points to detect arrival passengers who do not declare excess quantities of dutiable cigarettes in their possession.

Customs officers can conduct speedy verification of whether a Hong Kong resident has spent 24 hours or longer outside the territory through on-line communication with the Immigration Department.

To heighten public awareness of the cigarette duty-free concessions and its related penalty, the Customs and Excise Department has arranged to broadcast the message at the arrival hall of Lo Wu via the public announcement system and an electronic panel.

The spokesman appealed to travellers to be patient when going through Customs checks at the control points.

Ends/Monday, January 5, 2004

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