Customs at Hong Kong airport reports 2 successful searches

The two cases involve the attempted import of illegal animal products and the smuggling of a large consignment of cocaine. The perpetrators now face significant penalties if they are found guilty by the local courts. The official investigations are still ongoing, so the trials against the suspects have not yet begun.

Hong Kong Customs seized over 800 kg of dried shark fins with an estimated market value of about HK$4 million at Chep Lap Kok Airport  –  courtesy: Hong Kong Customs

Despite strict international sanctions, the international trade in protected animals and banned animal products is flourishing unabated. During a routine inspection at Hong Kong’s Check Lap Kok airport, customs officials discovered a large consignment of dried shark fins. The packages were processed in Dubai and loaded on board of a Hong Kong bound airline, apparently unnoticed by local controllers.

The fins of most sharks are cut off while they are still alive
The sharks are then usually thrown overboard of the fishing vessels, where the largely immobile animals are left to die in extreme agony.

The quantity now detected and seized at Check Lap Kok is considerable: 800 kg of dried shark fins, packed separately and mixed with other seafood consignments, stored in 25 boxes. Estimated total value of the shipment: 4 million HK dollars. The goods in question were smuggled because the shipment did not appear in any of the accompanying documents. After a thorough investigation, customs officials arrested a 56-year-old female manager of the recipient company, who is suspected of being connected to the crime. The investigation is ongoing, and the arrested person has been released on bail, pending further investigation.

Fourth largest criminal offense worldwide
The penalties for such offenses can be drastic. Under the Endangered Species Protection Ordinance, any person found guilty of importing or exporting an endangered species without a permit, is liable to a maximum fine of HKD 10 million (US$1.275 million), and imprisonment for ten years.

The case now discovered in Hong Kong, is just the tip of the iceberg. With an estimated annual value of up to 20 billion euros, the illegal trade in wild animals is part of the fourth largest crime worldwide – after drug trafficking, human trafficking, and arms trafficking.

Shark fins achieve high prices on the black market
According to the World Wide Fund of Nature (WWF), more than 80 million sharks are currently killed by fishing every year, often just for the value of their fins, which mostly end up on Asian plates as shark fin soup.

Usually traded secretly, fins reach peak prices of 1,000 USD per kilogram. As a result of massive overexploitation, more than a third of all sharks and also some ray species worldwide, are now threatened with extinction. To prevent this, the WWF is urging an expansion of marine zones in which shark and ray hunting is completely banned. This should go hand in hand with an intensification of controls by customs officials or water police squads.

Cocaine instead of wine
At the same time, customs officials at Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok Airport detected another attempt to illegally smuggle goods into the country. They discovered 12 wine bottles hidden in the luggage of two passengers. But instead of wine, the bottles contained a total of around 18 liters of liquid cocaine. According to Hong Kong Customs, the market value of the drugs is in the region of HKD 18 million. The owners of the luggage, a 37-year-old female passenger and a 59-year-old male traveler, were arrested. They had boarded the plane in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and were detained after customs discovered the drugs in their belongings. Now, they face significant penalties. Under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, trafficking in drugs such as cocaine, is a serious offense. The maximum penalty on conviction is a fine of HK$5 million and life imprisonment.

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