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Speech by Commissioner of Police at TOCC


Following is the Speech by the Commissioner of Police, Mr Tsang Yam Pui, at the Opening Ceremony of the Transnational Organized Crime Conference (TOCC) held at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre (HKCEC) today (March 18). (English only)

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the conference. Let me first of all pose a question. What does transnational organized crime mean to us?

I would like you to imagine a scene. Imagine a man opening the doors of a container truck. Inside is a scene that is difficult to comprehend. The air vents have been closed, and the cargo of tomatoes is spread around. Amongst the boxes, in the stinking rancid air, are the bodies of 58 men and women, who have died in agonies of suffocation. The man staggers back. The police and immigration authorities are called. The task of removing the bodies starts and investigations begin.

This was the scene at Dover, in the United Kingdom, in June 2000. Similar tragedies have occurred around the world. People are thrown into the sea, abandoned in desolate areas, or cheated of everything they own.

The horror is terrible, for the victims and their families, who have frequently given their life savings to the people smugglers. These were young people, carrying their own hopes, and the hopes and love of their families. Tragically, their lives ended in a container truck.

For the successful illegal immigrants, the nightmare often only starts when the journey ends, as they are forced into virtual slave labour, or prostitution. Women and the young, the most vulnerable people in society, who most require protection, are often the most exploited.

In the aftermath of the Dover case, it was discovered that a previous attempt by the same criminal group had been foiled by a law enforcement agency. Proper action had been taken by that agency but unfortunately this had been confined to the specifics of that previous case. In hindsight it could be said that wider coordination could have been considered by that agency to prevent future attempts.

However, this is wise after the fact. Very often laid down procedures and other more pressing priorities tend to cloud our ability to see the bigger picture. How often are we fire fighters rather than strategists? I am sure that all of us can probably think of cases within our own jurisdictions where we have just been too busy to think ahead.

Incredibly, to conduct a human smuggling run from Asia to Europe like the Dover case, it would involve no less than five different syndicates, from five different states probably speaking five different languages. Yet they are all able to co-operate efficiently with one other and move a large group of people across the world in an incredibly short period of time.

These criminals have no problems with cooperation. Despite great differences in cultures and languages, they act with one another in smooth coordination.

When we as law enforcement officers operate in our own little boxes we offer great opportunities for transnational organised crime. The Dover case concerned people smuggling, but it could equally have been drugs, or other illicit cargoes.

We wonder why, in these days of modern policing, that there are still gaps in the way we cooperate with each other. It is these gaps that are so ruthlessly exploited by the underworld.

So what do we expect to see in the days to come as we attempt to examine and, hopefully, find ways to bridge the gaps to which I refer. In the busy conference programme we will be focusing on four main areas.

(a) First of all, we will look at emerging trends in narcotic crime. New illicit drugs are appearing around the world and these provide a new and frightening challenge to society. Easy to produce, easy to transport they are bringing the horrors of drug addiction to areas that were once remote from the threat. Syndicates are constantly becoming better organised, more extensive and establishing a broader range of products.

(b) Next is cyber crime. This threat was the stuff of science fiction just a decade ago. Now cyber crime is very much a reality with the potential to undermine financial systems and societies.

(c) Thirdly, we will look at triads. Triad societies and other organised crime gangs have used their knowledge and ruthlessness to expand their reach. Drawing on false systems of loyalty, they continue to pose a significant threat to law and order.

(d) Finally, we will deal with money laundering. Money is the primary motivation for all trans-national organised crime groups. It is a unifying link. Large amounts of black money must be concealed and, with this, the challenge of interdicting the money laundering process comes into focus.

Business aside, we will also, very importantly, be getting to know each other during the conference. I hope that we will all be able to establish new friendships and new connections both in the formal business and in the informal activities that have been planned for you. As well as the four main themes we will be considering, I am sure that there are many other topics that will come up for discussion.

The Hong Kong Police arranged this conference for the following reasons.

Transnational organized crime exists as a huge threat today. The revenues run into the billions of dollars and the criminals involved know how to exploit every opportunity, every flaw that is offered to them. They react fast. They have huge resources and they have no remorse about the human suffering, which they cause.

Transnational crime does not care about national or regional jurisdictions or about the limitations that are imposed upon those fighting its activities. We are, quite rightly, as law enforcement officers, limited by laws and by our codes of conduct. But we are also limited, perhaps, by the fact that we sometimes fail to think as widely as we should.

Perhaps a single crime is part of a much wider conspiracy. If one organisation deals only with that crime and fails to think through the implications, then bigger crimes can go undetected and unpunished. We have to cooperate.

Of course, we all have resource constraints and it may not be simple to respond effectively to a request for assistance from an overseas jurisdiction. Particularly if we are hard-pressed in meeting all our local demands on our expertise and resources. We have to realise, however, that the fight against transnational organised crime requires us to move beyond our normal horizons.

I would like to give you an example of where international trust and cooperation worked very well, and this was a case in which I was personally involved a number of years ago.

Police received information that a gang had arranged for a yacht to sail from the Philippines to Hong Kong where it would be loaded with 43 kilogrammes of heroin. The vessel was then to be sailed to Australia.

When the yacht arrived in Hong Kong drugs were purchased and stored on board. The skipper, a Canadian who was hired by the syndicate to sail the boat to Australia, was also instructed to hire a crew in Hong Kong. Unbeknown to him and the syndicate he recruited four undercover Hong Kong Police offices.

With crew and drugs on board the yacht set sail for Australia, only to be intercepted before leaving Hong Kong waters. During the next 42 days, when the yacht was presumed by the drug syndicates to be at sea, preparations were put in place for a controlled delivery. A second vessel was subsequently prepared by the Australian authorities sailed into a port in Australia and a quantity of drugs was delivered. When this took place arrests were made, both in Australia and Hong Kong.

This was one of the most successful operations for the Narcotics Bureau of the Hong Kong Police as well as the Australian Federal Police. Some 24 people were arrested here in Hong Kong and in Australia. This included the respective syndicate heads, their assistants and financiers. Investigations into the money laundering aspects of the case subsequently produced significant results.

This case demonstrated that where there is a will to trust, work together and share information between different law enforcement jurisdictions and agencies, real success can be achieved. At every stage of the game, it was essential that there was seamless co-operation between police in Australia and Hong Kong and that absolute confidentiality was maintained.

The case was complex and difficult and there were many legal problems to be overcome including securing the co-operation of the Canadian skipper who was placed in voluntary custody for 42 days before he helped stage the "delivery" in Australia. But a positive and innovative approach and a constant willingness to share information brought a most

rewarding result.

The theme for this conference over the next few days is:

Bridging the GAP - A Global Alliance Perspective.

This global alliance perspective, as shown in the operation I have just described, is vital to the success of the fight against transnational organised crime.

Organised crime is a long-standing phenomenon and criminals have always exploited any weaknesses they can find. In Hong Kong, we have particular experience of organised crime in relation to the activities of Triad Societies and we are very happy to share this with you.

Transnational crime is, perhaps, of more recent origin. The rapid development of globalisation has posed new challenges.

The illicit drugs trade is one of the largest global businesses in the world. Money laundering involves transfers made at lightning speed around the globe.

However, I am convinced that the basic infrastructure for the fight against transnational organized crime now exists. It is up to us to make it work. Transnational crime organisations are very flexible and forward thinking - and we must be the same.

Crime organisations may have long histories - such as the Triads. But they are very quick to spot new opportunities. As I have said, cyber crime is a great threat for the future and older criminal organisations are well aware of the opportunities on offer. We don't know what is coming, but all I can say is: "Watch this space."

Some agencies have been quicker than others to recognise this and other threats and are increasingly co-operating across borders and jurisdictions. The fight against transnational organized crime, for instance, has been greatly strengthened in recent years by the introduction of Mutual Legal Assistance agreements. These enable information to be passed quickly between law enforcement agencies in different countries and for legal procedures to be simplified.

However, these formal arrangements would not work without the existence of trust among the cooperating parties.

We need to trust other law enforcement agencies, and with that I include those in our own jurisdictions. We all know that professional rivalries and jealousies exist. These must be put behind us.

We also need to trust each other no matter what country we operate in. Organised crime demands quick responses. A telephone call or an email may be the only way that a major crime can be prevented. This won't happen unless we trust each other.

I am sure we have a collective will to move forward. We must use that will to build trust.

In summing up and to underline what I have said so far, I wish to make the following four points.

Firstly, we must avoid finger pointing and the allocation of blame in our work. This is an important part of building trust. Things do go wrong, mistakes are sometimes made but we must learn from our wrongdoings and mistakes. Indulging in endless discussion of who was at fault is time wasting and counter productive.

Secondly, we must appreciate our respective strengths and weaknesses. Not every agency is equally skilled, or 'resource rich' in the same areas - so we must offer each other help and assistance. And we must not be afraid to ask for help. We have to think internationally. We must always consider whether a case we are dealing with might have implications for another country or countries. Just dealing with the manifestation of a criminal enterprise in our own jurisdiction is simply not enough in a world of transnational organised crime.

Thirdly, I think we have plenty of scope to take positive action now in the fields of training, and in the sharing of expertise and specialist equipment. We must be ready to do so.

And lastly, but by no means least, let us actively increase our sharing of information and investigations. The operation I have mentioned involving the yacht demonstrates just how high the rewards of such sharing can be. Obviously we have the use of telephones, faxes and e-mail but sometimes nothing can replace face-to-face contact. So, remember, in these days of modern air travel, the whole world is less than a day away. I am sure the airline industry would welcome the business!!

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a very busy programme ahead of us. This is the first time that the Hong Kong Police has organised such a gathering. I am delighted that so many of you have taken the time from your demanding duties to attend this conference.

As I said earlier, the infrastructure to fight transnational organized crime is largely in place. What we now need is the will to make it work.

Meeting each other, taking time out for discussions, is as vital a part of this conference as the formal element. I look forward to meeting all of you and to listening to your contributions.

(Thank you very much.)

Police Report No. 1

Issued by PPRB

End/Monday, 1205 Hours, March 18, 2002


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