Hong Kong Customs Officials Make Record Seizure in Smuggling Bust

Hong Kong smuggled goods
Cases of smuggled goods seized by customs officers (Hong Kong Customs)

Published Jul 5, 2023 12:31 AM by The Maritime Executive

Customs officials in Hong Kong have busted another intricate smuggling racket at the busy Kwai Tsing Container Terminals after seizing goods with an estimated market value of about US$190 million, the largest case on record in terms of the seizure value.

The Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department announced that on June 13, officials uncovered a suspected case in which unnamed ocean going vessels were being used to smuggle goods to mainland China via Singapore at the Kwai Tsing Container Terminals.

The officials seized a large batch of suspected smuggled goods including electronics, expensive food ingredients, wines, music records and scheduled endangered species that were being prepared for shipping to China.

15 containers at the terminals had ostensibly been declared as carrying wood pulp and were being readied for shipment to China via Singapore. Upon inspection, customs officers found that the containers were fully packed with wooden boxes. While some were used to carry raw paper, most were used to conceal suspected smuggled goods, the majority of them being electronic goods, including integrated circuits, printed circuit boards and capacitors, with a total value of about US$140 million.

Other goods included about 25 tonnes of expensive food ingredients, about 20,000 bottles of table wines, about 27,000 pieces of classical music CDs and vinyl records, and scheduled endangered species.

Had all the goods reached their destination, smugglers could have avoided paying more than US$77 million in tariffs.

After a follow-up investigation, a 45-year-old man suspected to be connected with the case was arrested with the 15 containers being detained as investigation on the intricate smuggling syndicate continues.

“Customs will keep up its enforcement action and continue to fiercely combat sea smuggling activities through proactive risk management and intelligence-based enforcement strategies, along with mounting targeted anti-smuggling operations at suitable times to land a solid blow against relevant activities,” said the department in a statement.  

The massive haul is the latest in a series of smuggling rackets that Hong Kong custom officials have managed to dismantle in recent years, with the main destination being mainland China. The latest seizure broke the previous record in terms of value made two years ago where officials discovered US$150 million worth of smuggled goods hidden in 24 shipping containers on a vessel bound for China.

Despite smuggling being a serious offence with any person found guilty of importing or exporting unmanifested cargo being liable to a maximum fine of US$ 255,000 and imprisonment for seven years, it remains rampant at the country’s port facilities. The penalties are even steeper for importing or exporting an endangered species without a license is liable to a maximum fine of $10 million ($1.2 million) and imprisonment for 10 years.