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HK and Mainland Customs, DEA bust Colombia-based drug trafficking ring (with photo)

    Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department, the Anti-Smuggling Bureau (ASB) of Shenzhen Customs and the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) have smashed a Colombia-based cocaine trafficking syndicate.

     A total of 142 kilograms of cocaine, with an estimated market value of HK$105 million, and nine persons were caught on the Mainland and Hong Kong. Those arrested included three Colombians, a Venezuelan, three Mainlanders and two local people.

     At a ceremony hosted by Hong Kong Customs today (May 9), the Secretary for Security, Mr Ambrose S K Lee, spoke highly of the incessant effort of law enforcement officers in making such an encouraging achievement.

     Mr Lee said that law enforcement agencies of different jurisdictions had to work closely to bring to justice international criminals engaged in transnational dangerous drugs activities.

     "This spirit of co-operation is well demonstrated by Hong Kong Customs, ASB of Shenzhen Customs and the DEA through their close collaboration in exchanging intelligence and taking enforcement actions,¡¨Mr Lee said.

     "Hong Kong has been maintaining a close tie with its counterparts to adopt a multi-pronged approach to counter drug trafficking and drug abuse including collecting and analysing intelligence, co-operating with the law enforcement agencies and judicial authorities, sharing experience and intelligence.¡¨

     Mr Lee hoped that riding on the success of such co-operation, the parties involved could further foster a closer alliance and enhance communication.

     Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr Timothy Tong, said that the success of this case had borne testimony to the absolute trust and full confidence among the three parties. The law enforcement officers showed total trust while exchanging intelligence of utmost sensitive nature with one another, and showed great confidence in the enforcement competency of their counterparts.

     Mr Tong held high regard for the discipline and professionalism displayed by the involved officers, including 50 officers from Hong Kong Customs. To avoid leakage of information, the officers kept the operation details in strict confidence to themselves for a long time.

     At the ceremony, Mr Tong presented souvenirs to Acting Narcotics Attache of the DEA, Mr Steven Bowler; and Deputy Director General of ASB of Shenzhen Customs, Mr Songmin.

     Also attending the ceremony were US Consul General in Hong Kong, Mr James B Cunningham, and Director General of Shenzhen Customs District of PRC, Mr Zou Zhiwu.

     The haul resulted from Hong Kong Customs¡¦ initiative in smashing the ¡§1.11¡¨ mega drug trafficking case, an operation codenamed ¡§ScentHound¡¨ with ASB and DEA earlier this year which aimed to detect the smuggling of cocaine into Hong Kong and the Mainland.

     The intelligence provided by the DEA comprised two main crucial elements - (a) a huge amount of cocaine had been delivered to the southern part of the Mainland and (b) the members of the drug trafficking syndicate would seek buyers in Hong Kong. Following extensive analysis, Hong Kong Customs officers tracked down a targeted person and put him under close surveillance.

     When the targeted person departed for Shenzhen via Lo Wu Control Point in late January, Hong Kong Customs officers immediately contacted ASB of Shenzhen Customs requesting them to keep a close eye on the target across the boundary. Since then, Hong Kong Customs managed to get more and more information regarding the activities of other members of the syndicate.

     In the following operations, the law enforcement agencies investigated a Colombia-based cocaine trafficking syndicate active in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and took enforcement actions with the co-ordination of the General Administration of Customs.

     Undercover Hong Kong Customs officers obtained one kilogram of cocaine as sample from the syndicate at a place in Kowloon in mid-March. Parties on the Mainland and Hong Kong meticulously analysed intelligence and monitored the activities of syndicate members across the boundary. They took synchronous enforcement actions in respective jurisdictions at an optimum time.

     On March 15, the ASB of Shenzhen Customs notified Hong Kong Customs they had arrested two Hong Kong people and a Mainlander in an operation, seized some dangerous drugs and obtained information of the drugs storage centre. Hong Kong Customs then tightened surveillance on the ring members in Hong Kong in a bid to neutralise the whole ring.

     On the afternoon of March 16, acting upon notification that ASB had seized a large quantity of cocaine from a storage centre in Zhongshan, Hong Kong Customs mounted a corresponding operation, arresting two Colombians, who were syndicate members, at two locations in Hong Kong. They were aged 32 and 27.

     The 32-year-old man was charged with ¡§trafficking in a dangerous drug¡¨. The 27-year-old man was charged with ¡§conspiracy in trafficking in a dangerous drug¡¨ and ¡§possession of dangerous drug¡¨.

     Under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, drug trafficking is a serious offence. The maximum penalty is life imprisonment and a fine of $5 million.

Ends/Tuesday, May 9, 2006
Issued at HKT 18:04


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