Hong Kong Customs Busts Massive Black Market CigarettesArvin Peh
Hong Kong customs arrests 8 and seizes HK$82 million worth of contraband cigarettes during raid on cargo vessel.
The officers arrested eight men during the raid on a suspicious cargo vessel that was found berthed near a container terminal in Kwai Chung.
On Saturday, customs officers identified the dubious ship concealed among other vessels. The Customs and Excise Department detailed the operation on Sunday, explaining how they intercepted and boarded the vessel as it approached the terminal located along Container Port Road South.
Senior Inspector Lam Wai-kit of the department’s revenue crimes investigation bureau revealed that officers discovered a staggering 22 million contraband cigarettes stored in two 40-foot-long cargo containers. An additional 40,000 cigarettes were discovered in the ship’s engine room and cabin.
The department estimates the confiscated haul’s total market value to be HK$82 million. If these cigarettes had been imported legally, they could have contributed approximately HK$55 million in government tax revenue.
The arrested suspects, all men aged between 25 to 60, hail from Myanmar and mainland China. The ship’s captain is among the arrested. They are suspected of the importation of unmanifested cargo.
Lam stated that 70% of the haul was intended for the city’s market, with the remaining destined for export as they comprised brands not commonly known in the city. He also noted that further arrests are possible as customs officers continue to investigate the cigarettes’ source and intended destination.
Customs has seized over 430 million contraband cigarettes worth more than HK$1.4 billion this year, potentially generating HK$1 billion in government revenue. These figures represent 60% of the amount customs seized last year.
Hong Kong customs has anticipated an increase in black market cigarette smuggling by sea, particularly after the city increased its tobacco tax by 31% in February. The tax hike has pushed the average cost of a pack of 20 cigarettes to over HK$70, an extra HK$12, making illegal trade more lucrative for smugglers.