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Customs spares no effort in combating illegal activities and protecting consumer rights (with photo)

     The Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr Clement Cheung, today (February 6) provided a review of the work of the Customs and Excise Department in 2012, expressing that the department would continue to take stringent actions to suppress illegal activities including smuggling, drug trafficking and counterfeiting activities, while sparing no effort in safeguarding consumer interests and enhancing trade facilitation in the year.

     Mr Cheung said that in 2012, the department detected a total of 198 smuggling cases, seized $342 million worth of articles and arrested 189 persons. The number of smuggling cases detected was similar to that of the previous year while the total seizure value dropped by 22 per cent and the number of arrested persons was down by 12 per cent.

     Smuggling activities between Hong Kong and the Mainland, he said, accounted for 90 per cent of all the cases, among which 88 cases were by sea and 90 by land, representing a drop of 12 per cent and an increase of 36 per cent respectively compared with the previous year.

     High-value goods such as computers, mobile phones, electronic products and expensive seafood were the major goods smuggled to the Mainland while mainly illicit cigarettes and infringing articles were smuggled from the Mainland into Hong Kong.

     At the land boundary control points, the department mounted joint operations with the Shenzhen Customs against the smuggling of grey goods from mid-September last year. The department also worked with the Anti-smuggling Bureau of the Shenzhen Customs to raid a number of stores and seized large quantities of contraband and arrested the masterminds.

     On anti-narcotics work, the department detected 478 drug cases in 2012, arrested 433 persons and seized a total of 1,408 kilograms of various kinds of drugs, representing a drastic increase of 3.3 times compared with the 325kg seized in the previous year, attributed mainly to the detection of two major drug cases. Among the seizures, 51 per cent was cocaine (724.5kg), 36 per cent ketamine (507.6kg) and 5 per cent heroin (73kg).

     Mr Cheung pointed out that drug traffickers employed convoluted routes and different means to smuggle drugs into Hong Kong. Most of the drug cases detected at the airport involved concealment in body cavities or in luggage. At the land boundary control points, drugs were smuggled by passengers or cross-boundary vehicles employing "ants moving home" tactics, in which drugs were slipped through the boundary in small quantities.

     "The department will adopt specific strategies against organised drug syndicates, and strengthen co-operation with the aviation, travel and logistics industries, to expand our intelligence network," he said.

     In 2012, Customs detected 10 910 illicit cigarette cases, arrested 11 016 persons, and seized 76 million sticks of illicit cigarettes involving tax of $130 million. Compared with 2011, both the number of cases and the number of arrested persons increased by 20 per cent. Most of the cases involved incoming passengers fined under the Compounding Scheme. The amount of illicit cigarettes seized decreased by nearly 30 per cent, reflecting that enforcement work had achieved the expected result.

     Targeting the sale of illicit cigarettes by telephone ordering, the department established a 15-officer Telephone Order Task Unit last April. In the special operations conducted by the Task Unit, 147 persons including 69 buyers were arrested, with 3.2 million sticks of illicit cigarettes seized and 50 vehicles detained.

     On the situation of consumer rights protection in 2012, similar to 2011, the department received 581 complaints of suspected false trade descriptions, mainly related to fruits/foodstuffs (141 cases/24 per cent), dried seafood (134 cases/23 per cent) and Chinese herbs (74 cases/13 per cent). Thirty-nine traders were successfully prosecuted with over $9.2 million of goods forfeited.

     Mr Cheung said that, to tie in with the implementation of the Trade Descriptions (Unfair Trade Practices) (Amendment) Ordinance 2012, a special planning group has been set up to kick-start the preparation work. Public consultation on the Enforcement Guidelines will end on March 17, and he appealed to members of the public to give their views.

     On intellectual property rights protection, the department detected 116 piracy cases, and arrested 166 persons in 2012, representing a decrease of over 60 per cent as compared with the situation of 2011 (323 cases and 436 persons). The value of seizures dropped by 78 per cent to $6.9 million.

     The department detected 438 counterfeit cases, slightly decreased by 5 per cent compared with the 461 cases in 2011, and 485 persons were arrested, representing an increase of 13 per cent from 429 persons in 2011. The total value of seizures was $136 million, representing a drop of 7 per cent. The seizures involved mainly electronic products, clothes and accessories, watches and leather goods. However, the cases of online selling of counterfeit goods went up by 20 per cent to 55 cases.

     Also speaking at today's press conference, the Deputy Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Mr Luke Au Yeung, introduced the setting up of the Electronic Crime Investigation Centre (ECIC) to tackle online infringing activities. The ECIC, set up at a cost of $4 million and located at the Customs Headquarters Building, comes into operation early this year.

     Mr Au Yeung said the establishment of the ECIC was aimed at strengthening research on methods used by criminals in the commission of offences by harnessing the latest technologies and formulating enforcement strategies and procedures for the collection of digital evidence for front-line enforcement officers. The Centre will also be used for the organisation of special training courses for front-line officers on evidence collection to strengthen their techniques and skills on retrieval and preservation of digital evidence. In addition, the ECIC will also be involved in the development of information systems to improve Customs' capability in monitoring and investigating Internet crimes.

     On trade facilitation, the department launched the Hong Kong Authorized Economic Operators (AEO) Programme last April, with the objective of providing a safer and more effective trading environment for the industry. The AEO programme also aims at increasing Hong Kong's trading partners' confidence in Hong Kong's capability in handling export or transshipment goods.

     Under the programme, Customs will provide accreditation service free of charge to local companies which have satisfied predetermined security standards. The companies which have been accredited as AEOs will enjoy enhanced Customs facilitation, including reduced examination or prioritised Customs clearance.

     Mr Au Yeung said the response from the industry had been positive since the implementation of the Programme. The department so far has received 21 applications and nine companies have been accredited, including local manufacturers, import/export industry, multinational companies in the freight forwarding industry, and small and medium enterprises.

     Customs is also taking active steps to reach mutual recognition agreements in relation to the AEO Programme with other Customs administrations so as to solicit more trade facilitation arrangements for local AEOs, consolidating Hong Kong's position as an international logistics hub, Mr Au Yeung added.

     Regarding revenue collection on dutiable commodities, duty collected by the department in 2012 amounted to $8.66 billion, representing an increase of 10 per cent when compared with $7.85 billion in 2011. Among them, 58 per cent was from tobacco products ($5 billion), 38 per cent from hydrocarbon oil ($3.25 billion), and the rest from alcoholic products.

Ends/Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Issued at HKT 18:57


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