Dozens of the Hong Kong Triad have been arrested in a series of operations targeting gangs using speedboats to smuggle contraband to mainland China, police said Monday.
Smuggling has been one of the mainstays of the triad of organized crime gangs operating on both sides of the border for years, but the phenomenon has increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
Police have launched a crackdown after a naval officer was killed last month when his ship was struck by smugglers during a high-speed chase.
On Monday, Hong Kong police said 365 people had been arrested in a series of joint raids over the past two weeks, including 35 men from the triad believed to have led the maritime smuggling operations.
Police in mainland China also arrested two men suspected of being involved in the collision that killed the officer, Chief Superintendent Ho Chun-tung of the Bureau of Organized Crime and the Triads of Triads told reporters. Hong Kong.
More than 50 speedboats were seized along with 1,700 tonnes of frozen meat worth HK $ 500 million ($ 64 million).
Frozen meat is just one part of a cornucopia of in-demand commodities that gangs are smuggling into China.
Recent speedboat contraband busts have brought everything back from luxury watches, handbags and shoes to endangered animal parts, cosmetics, wines, whiskey and cigars.
Hong Kong has no sales tax, which makes successful smuggling extremely lucrative.
Mainland China is also inundated with fake brands as regular health alerts have boosted demand for international products.
Until the crackdown triggered by the naval officer’s death, smugglers often relied on force in numbers.
Every day, dozens of ships from mainland China waited just outside Hong Kong waters near the city’s airport.
Speedboats crammed with cargo, some with six engines to outrun the police, then emerged en masse and rushed towards the waiting continental ships.
Some of these recent spectacular smuggling runs have been filmed by members of the public using phones.
While Hong Kong has long been one of the safest cities in the world in terms of street crime, triad organized crime gangs have a long history in the city.
Gangs have their origins in 19th century Chinese fraternal organizations.
Most fled to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan when the Communists seized power in mainland China in 1949.
But in recent decades, most of the triad’s gangs have shifted their ideological allegiance and embraced Beijing.
Since Hong Kong’s handover to Britain in 1997, some of Beijing’s most ardent critics have found themselves on the wrong side of a triad assault.
Major gangs like Wo Shing Wo, 14K and Sun Yee On have a presence in Hong Kong and mainland China as well as links to international organized crime.