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Customs hunts 300 buyers of smuggled cigarettes


Clifford Lo
May 12, 2012

Customs officers are trying to trace more than 300 buyers who placed phone orders for contraband cigarettes, after a series of raids on illicit tobacco operations.

Officers found three ledgers during the raids that were believed to contain the buyers’ telephone numbers and order details – but the entries were represented by nicknames and abbreviations.

The task of cracking the codes and tracking down the buyers has fallen on a new customs task force that targets the sale of contraband cigarettes via phone orders.

“Tobacco traffickers use abbreviations and set their own secret codes to store their customers’ information,” a senior customs officer said.

“We need more time to carry out background checks to identify buyers, then we will apply for search warrants in court before raiding their homes and making arrests.”

The ledgers were seized on three occasions during an operation codenamed Torpedo, which started in the middle of last month and netted illegal cigarettes worth a total of HK$6.4 million.

On Thursday, four tobacco traffickers were arrested in Tsuen Wan and HK$900,000 of cigarettes seized. Customs said the contraband was used to fill phone orders.

That followed a raid on an industrial building in Tsuen Wan on Tuesday where contraband cigarettes with a retail value of HK$5.5 million were stored. Two men were arrested.

Customs hit the place hours after a cross-border truck from Shenzhen smuggled in a consignment hidden in the hollow centres of 10 piles of cartons, said Mark Lee Yuen-man, divisional commander of the anti-illicit-cigarette investigation unit.

The Torpedo operation involved raids on 60 flats, with 22 buyers arrested and 11,000 illicit cigarettes seized.

The authorities said they wanted “to send a message that both buyers and sellers of illicit cigarettes have criminal responsibility”.

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