Hong Kong customs seized a record haul of cocaine at its international airport this week, foiling two passengers who tried to smuggle 58 million Hong Kong dollars (US$7.5 million) worth of the drug in their luggage.
One 35-year-old man arrived Tuesday from São Paulo, Brazil, after transiting in Beijing with 48 kilograms (105 pounds) of cocaine wrapped in quilts inside his suitcases, the largest amount ever seized from an individual passenger in the city’s history. A 22-year-old female traveller on the same flight was also discovered to be carrying 12 kilograms of cocaine inside false compartments of four backpacks stowed in her suitcase. They two were arrested and charged with drug trafficking.
Not including Tuesday’s cases, customs officers have seized more than HK$50 million worth of cocaine at the airport this year, found sewn into jacket linings or stuffed into shopping bags and laptop cases. On Monday, airport customs officers found about HK$1.92 million worth of the drug inside layers of silicone rubber, which were in turn tucked inside handbags, two cushions and a wall map shipped by air mail from Uruguay.
Smugglers have tried other tactics, including joining holiday tours to New Zealand from the airport, to try to reduce their chances of detection. Out of about a dozen cases of cocaine smuggling caught at the airport this year, all flights originated in South America, with about a third embarking from Brazil.
The maximum penalty for drug trafficking in Hong Kong is life imprisonment, considerably lighter than elsewhere in the region, including mainland China and Singapore, where the crime can result in the death penalty.
These seizures come as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime warned in a report this year that East Asia and Southeast Asia may be at a greater risk for rising cocaine use, thanks to “the glamour associated with its use and the emergence of more affluent sections of society.”
“I’ve heard from front-line social workers that cocaine has become really cheap, making it more affordable and also seem kind of fashionable and youngish and cool,” says Samson Tse, an associate professor at the University of Hong Kong who has researched local drug use.
The growing affordability, says Mr. Tse, could be accounted for by rising supply as well as greater mixing of the drug with other substances.
Though historically Hong Kong’s drug of choice has been heroin, more recently, the number of residents using drugs like ketamine and cocaine has climbed, according to government studies. In a 2011 official government survey, among reported local drug users under age 21, 20% said they used cocaine.
The final destination of this week’s drug haul was unclear, though demand for drugs has been growing across the border in mainland China. According to Chinese authorities, attempts to smuggle cocaine into the country from South America also have risen in recent years.
In at least one June case in Hong Kong, an 18-year-old smuggler from Brazil appeared to be bound for the mainland. He was arrested with HK$2 million worth of cocaine at the airport while waiting to board a ferry to Zhuhai, Guangdong. He was arrested and charged with drug trafficking.Author: Te-Ping Chen Source Wall Street Journal – China Real Time Report
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