Nine held as $105m drug ring cracked

Hong Kong and Shenzhen customs officers, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration have shut down a Colombia-based cocaine trafficking syndicate after the mainland's largest haul of the drug, worth HK$105 million.

Staff reporter and Associated Press


Hong Kong and Shenzhen customs officers, and the US Drug Enforcement Administration have shut down a Colombia-based cocaine trafficking syndicate after the mainland's largest haul of the drug, worth HK$105 million.
Nine people - three Colombians, a Venezuelan, three mainlanders and two Hong Kong residents - were arrested.

Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said Tuesday law enforcement agencies of different jurisdictions must work closely to bring to justice international criminals engaged in transnational drug activities.

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

The joint operation was mounted after US intelligence showed that a huge cocaine consignment had been delivered to the southern part of the mainland and syndicate members would be seeking buyers in Hong Kong. Officers subsequently tracked down a man and kept him under close surveillance.

As he left for Shenzhen at the Lo Wu checkpoint in January, Hong Kong alerted the Shenzhen authorities about the suspect's movements.

Law enforcement agencies then investigated a Colombia-based cocaine trafficking syndicate active in Hong Kong and Shenzhen, and took action in conjunction with the mainland's General Administration of Customs.

Undercover Hong Kong officers successfully obtained one kilogram of cocaine as a sample from the syndicate in mid-March, allowing authorities to meticulously analyze intelligence and monitor the activities of the syndicate's members across the border.

Mainland officers also seized 142.7kg of cocaine smuggled from Colombia, along with the equivalent of US$25,000 (HK$195,000) in yuan and Hong Kong dollars, according to a mainland customs spokesman, Liu Guangping.

The operation showed how South American drug gangs are aggressively moving into Asia to exploit new markets and expand their global distribution chains, said William Fiebig, a DEA agent based in Beijing. "It's a huge market," he said. "Why are other businesses coming to Asia?"

Chinese and US authorities have stepped up cooperation in recent years as the drug trade between the two countries grows.

The arrests and seizures were made between March 15-17 following an investigation that began on January 11 and was aided by key intelligence from the DEA, Liu said.

Most of the drugs were found in a storehouse in Zhongshan, the spokesman added.

Fiebig said the investigation revealed an alliance between Colombian gangs and those from Hong Kong and the mainland to distribute "multi- hundred kilogram quantities" of cocaine in Asia.

"This is extremely significant as it confirms that Colombian drug trafficking organizations are expanding their distribution operations into Asia and that large quantities of cocaine are already being imported into the mainland," he said.

Fiebig would not give details of the investigation.

However he said the DEA and customs authorities from Hong Kong and the mainland "shared intelligence, combined investigation resources and coordinated investigation activities, all in real time." The case also marked the first time mainland customs officers have worked with US authorities in a drug investigation.

Liu also said police uncovered a secret drugs laboratory during their investigation. No details were given, although photos provided from the raid by police showed bottles of ethyl ether - a key ingredient in making highly addictive crack cocaine.

The two Colombians detained in Hong Kong, aged 32 and 27, have been charged with drug trafficking, and conspiracy to traffic in dangerous drugs and drug possession.