A series of significant cocaine seizures has underscored Hong Kong’s growing role as a regional import point and consumer market as the cocaine trade spreads across East Asia.
The most recent seizure took place in early November in the coastal town of Tin Shui Wai, where authorities discovered 610 kilograms of cocaine in a sea container. The drugs were concealed in frozen fruit juices that had been shipped from the Brazilian port of São Paulo, according to a government press release on November 8.
Metal drums were used instead of plastic buckets to slide cocaine through the scanning devices and “to make it harder and longer for officers to dismantle them,” said Chan Kong-Ming, superintendent. Hong Kong Drug Police.
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The November bust was only the second largest this year. In April, police announced a record transport of 700 kilograms of cocaine believed to have been trafficked across the Pacific before being divided and smuggled into the city via speedboats.
Such tactics – and quantities – are increasingly common in Hong Kong. In August, the territory made its largest seizure of air cargo, when authorities intercepted 110 kilograms of cocaine sent from Brazil to Hong Kong in two huge hydraulic devices.
Crack was also recently discovered by authorities, but in much smaller quantities. On November 2, authorities seized 3.5 kilograms of crack cocaine from the home of a low-level distributor. Cocaine powder and baking soda, used in making crack, were also found at the site, according to a South China Morning Post report.
The amount of cocaine seized from January to May 2021 was 60 times higher than at the same time last year, according to Hong Kong police.
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Hong Kong has long been a major hub in the cocaine trade in Asia, offering a robust consumer market, easy access to mainland China, and the logistical capacity to tranship drugs across the Asia-Pacific region.
“Relationships have been negotiated between Latin American suppliers and China-based unions for quite some time now, especially when it comes to cocaine,” Jason Eligh, senior expert at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized, told InSight Crime. Crime (GI-TOC).
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Cocaine arrives from various launching points. Authorities have focused on trafficking from Colombia in past years, although a Mexican trade official drew attention in 2015 when he claimed that the Jalisco New Generation cartel (Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación – CJNG) was reaping profits in the Hong Kong cocaine market. Press releases indicate that Brazil is the most common source country this year, although shipments from Peru, Panama and Suriname have also been intercepted.
The dynamics of contraband have been equally fluid. Before the pandemic, in 2019, Hong Kong accounted for nearly 10% of the cocaine seized across Asia. Most arrived by shipping container, according to the latest World Drug Report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
In 2020, travel restrictions linked to the pandemic caused a dramatic, but temporary, increase in small-scale cocaine trafficking to Hong Kong by air parcel. Cocaine seized from packages increased tenfold in 2020 from the previous year, pushing the retail price per gram to $ 220 by the summer, from $ 140 in the spring, according to a report from the South. China Morning Post.
The major seizures this year mark the resumption of large-scale cocaine trafficking by container and air freight, customs officials said. A senior official said more than half of the cocaine seized is likely destined for the local market.
Moreover, the evolution and possible growth of the cocaine market in Hong Kong can be seen in the increasing appearance of crack, according to Eligh.
“Crack manufacturing is an expected development as supply chains take root and powder markets mature relative to their demand profile…[crack cocaine] also tends to provide a better ROI than powder alone, ”he said.
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