By Tonny Chan (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-05-10 05:52
A tripartite operation involving the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong and the United States has resulted in the seizure of 142 kilograms of cocaine with a market value of HK$105 million (US$13 million) and the arrest of nine suspects in three Pearl River Delta region cities.
Customs officers Song Min (L), deputy director general of anti-smuggling bureau of the Shenzhen Customs, Ben Leung (C), Hong Kong's head of customs drug investigation bureau and Sin Wai-sun, divisional commander of Hong Kong's drug investigation, display seized cocaine and related props during a news conference in Hong Kong May 9, 2006. Hong Kong, China and U.S. drug enforcement bureaus have smashed a Colombia-based cocaine trafficking syndicate. A total of 142-kilograms of cocaine, with an estimated market value of HK105 million ($134,600) and a nine people were netted in mainland China and Hong Kong. The nine made up of three Colombians, a Venezuelan, three Chinese and two Hong Kong residents.
Customs officers Song Min (L), deputy director general of anti-smuggling bureau of the Shenzhen Customs, Ben Leung (C), Hong Kong's head of customs drug investigation bureau and Sin Wai-sun, divisional commander of Hong Kong's drug investigation, display seized cocaine and related props during a news conference in Hong Kong May 9, 2006. Hong Kong, China and U.S. drug enforcement bureaus have smashed a Colombia-based cocaine trafficking syndicate. [Reuters]
This is the first time that law enforcers from the three jurisdictions have co-operated to bust an international drug ring.
Officials said the success would pave the way for even closer cross-border co-operation to stem the flow of illicit drugs.
"In a globalized economy, borders blur. Drug syndicates also take advantage of it. No country can deal with them alone without international co-operation," Ambrose Lee, Hong Kong's secretary for security, said at a news briefing yesterday.
Here's how the sequence of events unfolded:
In January, the United States passed on intelligence to the Hong Kong authorities that a large amount of cocaine had been shipped to southern China from South America and the syndicate was keen to find buyers in the special administrative region (SAR).
Hong Kong customs tracked down a suspect in the SAR and placed him under constant watch, Customs Drug Investigation Bureau chief Ben Leung said.
In late January, the suspect left for neighbouring Shenzhen where customs officers took over the surveillance, which lasted for more than a month.
In mid-March, undercover agents from Hong Kong posed as potential buyers and met a syndicate member in the SAR and obtained a slab of cocaine whose street value is HK$744 (US$93) per gram as a sample.
On March 15, Shenzhen Customs arrested two Hong Kong residents one fluent in Spanish and a mainlander; and seized 5 kilograms of cocaine.
The next day, Shenzhen Customs stormed a house in neighbouring Zhongshan and found 136 kilograms of cocaine. A woman was arrested.
On March 16, Hong Kong trailed two Colombians and arrested them.
On March 17, Shenzhen rounded up the remaining three suspects a Colombian, a Venezuelan and a mainlander.
"It's evident that the syndicate wanted to establish a market in the mainland and Hong Kong and also re-export drugs to West Africa and Thailand," Leung said.
The drug was believed to have originated in Colombia, and taken to Venezuela and Brazil before heading for southern China by sea.
"This is a very successful example," Zhou Zhiwu, director of Shenzhen Customs, said of the joint operation. "We fought a beautiful battle."
James Cunningham, the US consul-general in Hong Kong, said the exercise was significant not only for intelligence sharing but also in strengthening the partnership between the US Drug Enforcement Administration and its Asian counterparts.