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Ex-top cop in fight against illicit trade

A former senior police superintendent has decided to continue fighting smuggling by joining the civil organization Hong Kong United Against Illicit Trade.

Patrick Wong, who spent 37 years with the police, said smuggling is not simply a trade issue, but more of a social problem especially the profound impact it has on youths.

As such, he has decided to use his past experience not only to fight illicit trade, but also to raise public awareness.

“It’s not just a matter of buying a packet of smuggled cigarettes or a counterfeit handbag. It’s more about directly funding the criminals and providing more economic incentives for an illegal business,” Wong said.

Crime syndicates often recruit young people looking for quick cash as transportation “mules.” It is especially dangerous as it weakens the youths’ sense of the rule of law, easily turning them into habitual offenders.

Wong said he had seen many youths ruined during his years of police service.

One was a teenager who joined a triad society and sold counterfeit DVDs on the street. At age 17, he was involved in a gang fight and accidentally killed another triad member.

He was arrested and served prison time for his crime.

“If not for the profits that come with the illicit trade, this teenager might not have joined the triad and become a murderer,” Wong said.

“This incident had a profound and lasting impact on me. I believe that the illicit trade does not merely impact legitimate business, but is really a social problem that calls for the public’s serious attention.”

There is a host of illicit trade activities in Hong Kong, involving electronic products, cigarettes, fuel, ivory products, plants, cars and various types of counterfeit goods and products.

Illicit trade is so pervasive that it goes into the daily life of virtually everyone.

Wong said Hong Kong United Against Illicit Trade focuses on activities that have the most serious impact on society, such as the illicit trade in cigarettes and counterfeit goods.

Hong Kong United Against Illicit Trade has about 30 supporting members and individuals, including community organizations, small businesses, trade groups and individuals.

Wong said that while counterfeit DVDs have nearly died out, illicit cigarettes have become one of the most popular smuggled items.

The trade becomes particularly active in February whenever there is rumor of a possible tobacco tax hike.

In fact, both buying and selling illicit cigarettes are illegal, and public housing residents can even be evicted from their homes, Wong said.

Last year, the organization worked with Oxford Economics to release the Asia-16 Illicit Tobacco Indicator 2014, showing that about one in four cigarettes consumed in the SAR comes from the black market, costing the government HK$2.5 billion in lost tax revenues.

Wong believes stiffening criminal penalties could serve as a deterrent.

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