A Hong Kong man was caught entering the city from mainland China with HK$11 million (US$1.4 million) worth of undeclared gold in his car boot on Wednesday, the latest is a surge of precious metal smuggling cases this year, already up almost 120 per cent on the whole of last year.
More than HK$100 million worth of smuggled precious metals – mostly gold – has been confiscated at the city’s cross-border checkpoints since January. Officials have attributed the surge to increased security checks and said smugglers were looking to exploit the differing gold prices on both sides of the border while avoiding high mainland tariffs.
In Wednesday’s case, customs officers stopped a Hong Kong-bound BMW for inspection at Shenzhen Bay immigration control point, where city officials work on mainland land leased to the local government. They arrested the driver, a 31-year-old Hongkonger, after seizing 35kg of undeclared gold with an estimated value of HK$11 million in the boot.
By Thursday afternoon, the man was still being held for questioning and had not been charged.
So far this year, officers busted 25 cross-border smuggling cases at the city’s immigration control points and seized HK$105 million worth of precious metals in total, arresting 34 people.
Figures obtained from the Customs and Excise Department showed 263kg of gold with an estimated value of HK$93 million was found in 24 of the cases. In nine of the cases the suspect was leaving the city. In the rest they were entering.
In the whole of last year, customs officers seized HK$48 million worth of precious metals being smuggled into the city from the mainland, and arrested 18 people, in 11 cases. No one was caught smuggling metals out of the city.
The smuggled metal was usually found hidden in compartments of vehicles in inspections at four immigration control points – Lok Ma Chau, Man Kam To, Shenzhen Bay and Sha Tau Kok.
One source with knowledge of the investigations said the difference in the price of precious metals in Hong Kong and the mainland led traders to hire smugglers to sneak the metals across the border to cash in.
“[Traders] cashed in on precious metals where the higher price was offered. Because of strict regulations and hefty tariffs on the mainland such as a 17 per cent value-added tax, they paid to smuggle the valuables in and out of Hong Kong,” he said.
He added that it was not easy to get export or import permits from mainland authorities.
Another source said the surge in the number of this year’s smuggling cases was the result of enhanced enforcement action.
“After noticing the trend, inspections of cross-border checkpoints have been stepped up,” he said.