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Over 170 tobacco trafficking suspects arrested in Hong Kong phone sales crackdown

Pupils, housewives and jobless people detained in raids on public housing estates

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A record number of more than 170 suspected tobacco traffickers and buyers have been rounded up since the start of the year as customs continues to target telephone orders for illicit cigarettes.

The figure was more than triple that recorded in the same three months of last year, a senior customs officer said, partly because of enhanced enforcement and cooperation with the Housing Department to stamp out the trade at public residential estates.

Customs will be extending its operation to public estates in the northwestern New Territories later this year, after focusing on Kowloon East last year.

“The crackdown on phone-order services for illicit cigarettes will continue. We will spare no efforts in combating such illegal trade,” Wan Hing-chuen, divisional commander with the Customs and Excise Department, said yesterday, expecting more arrests to follow.

In July, customs teamed up with housing authorities to widen its intelligence network.

Information from the Housing Department, covering 29 Kowloon East estates, yielded 28 arrests and the confiscation of 40,000 illegal cigarettes in the first three months of this year.

The 28 were among 172 people arrested in 168 cases of phone orders in which 280,000 cigarettes were found.

This compares with 53 cases uncovered during the same period last year, with 57 arrests and the seizure of 970,000 cigarettes.

Wan said those arrested this year included tobacco traffickers and buyers.

“Traffickers included pupils, housewives and jobless people, while buyers included construction site workers, the elderly and hair-salon employees,” he said.

He said one of the pupils was a 15-year-old boy who earned HK$10 per carton – containing 10 packs of illicit cigarettes – he delivered. It is understood that some of the arrests were made by officers who posed as customers and placed phone orders with traffickers.

On Tuesday, customs officers followed a delivery van to a storage place of illegal cigarettes in a remote Tin Shui Wai village. They arrested two men aged 40 and 42 and discovered HK$1.1 million of illicit cigarettes.

In the whole of last year, the city recorded 318 cases of phone orders in which 329 people were arrested and HK$8.1 million worth of cigarettes were seized. In 2013, officers detected 195 cases and arrested 225 people with HK$5.4 million worth of cigarettes.

Source URL (modified on Apr 2nd 2015, 12:55am):

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