HONG KONG: Untaxed European Union-made cigarettes worth HK$52 million have been confiscated in Hong Kong during a joint operation between British and Hong Kong customs officials while en route to Greece, a senior official said this afternoon.
The consignment was the city’s largest seizure of dutiable cigarettes over the past few years, according to Superintendent Cecilia Yeung Kai-fei of the Customs and Excise Department’s revenue and general investigation bureau.
“An investigation indicated that the cigarettes were exported from the European Union but were being smuggled back into the European Union to escape taxes,” she said.
“Such a circuitous route is common, but it’s rare that Hong Kong is used as a stopover.”
Yeung said an initial investigation showed the cigarettes were destined for Greece. “It involves a duty potential of 2.87 million Euro dollars if the cigarettes were smuggled into Greece,” she said.
In the afternoon, the director of a Hong Kong shipping company was helping field inquiries from customs officers. So far, no one has been arrested locally.
Hong Kong customs officials launched an investigation after receiving a tip-off from their British counterparts earlier this month.
Officers carried out a risk assessment, identified two suspicious shipping containers that arrived from the United Arab Emirates on Saturday and Tuesday, and then selected them for inspection.
The two containers from the same sender were declared to have carried furniture, according to Yeung.
The superintendent said that, when opened for inspection, the 40-foot containers were revealed to be packed with boxes of dutiable cigarettes.
Yeung said the city’s customs officials had passed related information of the seizures to its counterparts at the European Union and British customs. She added that local authorities would monitor whether more shipments of dutiable cigarettes would arrive.
She said the city would liaise closely with customs authorities worldwide to fight the illegal trade.
Last month officials seized HK$21 million worth of smuggled cigarettes from a shipping container originating in Vietnam and bound for Taiwan.
Under the Dutiable Commodities Ordinance, dealing with, possessing, selling or buying illicit cigarettes is a serious offence that carries a maximum penalty of a HK$1 million fine and seven years in jail.