A Hongkong Post customs inspector spoke with South China Morning Post about a spike in drug seizures. Despite having only 30 inspectors, Hongkong Post has kept up with a drug smuggling surge fourfold that of previous years.
Of all the seizures this year, drugs took up 78% of smuggling cases. Non-drug smuggling cases do not even come close to reaching that number. They likely never will either. The first eight months of the year – roughly a month prior to this article – the number of drug smuggling cases was up 19% year on year.
The number of drug smuggling cases in 2013 was only 131. This number rose to 525 in 2015 and the first eight months of 2016 have already shown 450 cases.
Customs’ Ellis Lai Lau-pak points to an increased level of cross-border e-commerce as a source of increased volume. More online shopping leads to more pieces of mail leaving and entering the city. “This was seen as an opportunity to smuggle goods,” he adds.
By weight, Gamma-butyrolactone (GBL) is being seized at an absurdly high rate. 135kg of the drug had been seized in 2015. The first eight months of 2016 have already pulled in 358kg with more expected.
Other drugs are being sent in any hollow space available. Cocaine, for instance, is still being readily shipped. Between June and August this year, 12.9kg of cocaine was seized. Most of the cocaine originated from South America. Lai points out two cocaine seizures that were notable moments. A package containing 320g of cocaine hidden between two paintings was intercepted by customs. Later on, 1200g of cocaine was intercepted after being spotted inside a computer motherboard.
Growing in popularity, he notes, are food items being used as cover for drugs. Customs officials found 1.2kg of methamphetamine stored inside the seasoning packets of 23 cups of noodles. The package was labeled “for student-use, snacks” and was mailed from the mainland to be re-exported from Hong Kong to Australia.
Another methamphetamine seizure took place after discovering 930g of the product inside 89 chocolate candy pieces. Lai describes the smuggling of drugs by placing them inside pieces of candy to be an “old trick.” The methamphetamine originated from Hong Kong. “We do not rule out the possibility that these were manufactured in Hong Kong,” Lai said, noting no arrests had yet been made.
Lai describes the job as being “incredibly difficult.” Hongkong Post has only 30 customs staff yet, last year, received almost 200 million pieces of international mail. Customs is going to reassess the situation to determine whether or not more staff are needed. Lai says that the expertise of officers and the current X-ray scanning machines were enough to allow the 30-person-crew to keep illegal activities in check.
In stark contrast to some countries, Lai says arresting people involved in such smuggling is incredibly difficult. Local laws make it tough to arrest someone who does not have the product or package in their physical possession.