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Customs cracks down on an illicit cigarette syndicate

Hong Kong (HKSAR) – Customs has mounted a large-scale anti-illicit cigarette operation, code-named “Sky-Eye” since last month. During the operation, Customs officers raided 41 peddlers, cracked 41 warehouses, including 30 residential storages, six mini-storage warehouses and five warehouses in factory buildings, detained 10 light goods vehicles, and arrested 63 persons, including 48 men and 15 women, aged between 21 and 78. The officers also seized about 10 million sticks of duty-not-paid cigarettes, 760 kg of duty-not-paid tobacco, worth about $23 million, with the duty potential of about $17 million. Customs believed that this operation has smashed an active illicit cigarette smuggling syndicate in the territory and its distribution network.

Customs has been closely monitoring the illicit cigarette activities.

Since the upsurge of tobacco duty rate in February, Customs has strengthened its manpower through internal deployment to take vigorous actions against illicit cigarette activities.

Under vigorous Customs actions, the large-scale smuggling activities became inactive. Customs later found the syndicate had changed the modus operandi and adopted the ‘swift distribution’ method to reduce the risk of being detected. Once a small amount of illicit cigarettes was smuggled into Hong Kong by cross boundary vehicles, then they would be dispatched to the peddlers in various districts without delay.

About a month ago, Customs targeted at a territory-wide illicit cigarette smuggling syndicate. After in-depth investigation, Customs found the syndicate smuggled the illicit cigarettes into Hong Kong by making false declaration. Once the illicit cigarettes were smuggled into the territory, they would be transported to peddlers in different districts by light goods vehicles without delay. The majority of the peddlers would sell the illicit cigarettes through telephone order and they would immediately dispatch to the buyers once an order was received.

Customs took follow-up action yesterday afternoon (June 24) and arrested the mastermind while he was receiving the seized 72 cartons of illicit cigarettes (about 870,000 sticks). Later, another 70,000 sticks of illicit cigarettes, 610kg of illicit tobacco and some packing material were seized from the syndicate’s packing and storage centre. It was believed that the syndicate not only smuggled the illicit cigarettes for the local market, but also smuggled some of the illicit cigarettes and tobacco to the overseas markets, including the United Kingdom by express couriers after repacking.

Customs believed that the result of the operation reflected the effectiveness of the enforcement strategy. Customs will continuously make stringent effort to monitor the illicit cigarette situation and combat any illicit cigarette activities.

Under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, anyone involved in dealing with, possession, selling and buying illicit cigarettes commits an offence. The maximum penalty on conviction is imprisonment for two years and a fine of $1 million.

Members of the public are urged to report any suspected illicit cigarettes activities to the Customs’ 24-hour hotline 2545 6182.

Source: HKSAR Government

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