Hong Kong’s reputation as East Asia’s most important drug hub was enhanced over the festive period as traffickers there were seemingly able to gather half a ton of cocaine just in time for New Year celebrations.
Police seized 424 kilograms of suspected cocaine on December 30, according to the South China Morning Post, citing police sources. Authorities discovered most of the haul in a hole in a warehouse, while they found the rest in a metal hut allegedly owned by the same syndicate.
The drugs had an estimated street value of $47 million, and police claimed the traffickers planned to sell the cocaine during the upcoming holidays, such as New Year’s Eve, Lunar New Year (January 22), and other festivals. While the origin of the drugs is unconfirmed, police told the South China Morning Post they believe the drugs were smuggled into Hong Kong by sea from South America.
The seizure capped off a massive year for Hong Kong customs officials, who seized a record 6 tons of drugs between January and November, the most since annual records began in 2002, according to Hong Kong customs. About half of the total haul was made of methamphetamine coming from Mexico.
With authorities carrying out a 60-kilogram cocaine seizure just days later on January 4, it is becoming more apparent that traffickers hope to gain a firmer grasp on Hong Kong’s lucrative domestic market.
InSight Crime Analysis
Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, drug syndicates in Hong Kong greatly improved their logistical expertise. This has allowed them to source cocaine from various points of origin across Latin America.
As Hong Kong eased its pandemic travel restrictions in 2022, drug traffickers took advantage of increasing cargo shipments to smuggle drugs into the city, Wong Kei-cheung, assistant superintendent of Hong Kong Customs’ Containerized Cargo Examination Unit, told the South China Morning Post.
Customs officers found nearly 2.3 tons of illegal drugs at sea cargo terminals from January to November 2022, a massive increase from the 721 kilograms discovered during the same period in 2021.
As InSight Crime reported in April 2022, methamphetamine arriving from Mexico remains the most common drug confiscated. But cocaine has been coming to Hong Kong from a far wider range of countries.
Drug couriers carrying significant quantities of cocaine are boarding flights from Brazil to Hong Kong with increasing regularity. In May, a Brazilian man carrying 4 kilograms of cocaine became the first air traveler entering Hong Kong to be arrested for drug trafficking since December 2020. In total, 11 air passengers were caught trying to smuggle smaller quantities of drugs last year.
Hong Kong’s prisons have also been filling up with Latin American women. Some stated they were tricked into working as drug couriers, and some have faced years in jail in the Chinese city. Hong Kong has the highest global rate of female prisoners, who make up 37% of foreign inmates, although authorities have refused to state why this may be the case.