Hong Kong customs seize largest illicit tobacco haul in 20 years

Hong Kong customs has uncovered HK$85m ($11m) in smuggled cigarettes in four containers shipped to the territory, the largest seizure in two decades.

All told, around 31m illegal cigarettes – which would have evaded an estimated HK$59min duties – were seized in the operation, which took place on February 17 and 18.

The cigarettes were found at logistics sites in Yuen Long and Tuen Mun, and at the Man Kam To container terminal. One of the containers was manifested as containing furniture. About 2,500 litres of suspected duty-not-paid liquor with an estimated market value of about HK$3m and unpaid duties estimated at $1m were also seized.

Customs officers arrested four men, aged between 24 and 41, and detained a truck suspected to be in linked to the smuggling activity. Under Hong Kong’s Import and Export Ordinance, anyone found guilty of importing or exporting unmanifested cargo is liable to a maximum fine of HK$2m and imprisonment for seven years.

Lee Hoi-man, deputy head of the Revenue and General Investigation Bureau under customs, told the South China Morning Post that the cargo from Japan passed through ports in South Korea, Vietnam and mainland China before arriving in Hong Kong, in a bid to avoid detection.

The operation was part of Project Crocodile, an international cooperation between customs agencies that has been running since 2004 and is based on information-sharing between countries about suspect tobacco shipments.

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