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General News of Tuesday, 24 February 2004

Source: The Standard

Engineer Busted With $640,000 cannabis in Hong Kong

A tip-off from a United States anti-drug agency helped Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department officers arrest a drug courier at Chek Lap Kok carrying HK$640,000 worth of cannabis.

The courier, a 38-year-old mechanical engineer from Ghana, carried a suitcase containing eight round packets of the drug each weighing about 800 grams, making a total haul of 6.7 kilograms.

The haul represents almost one quarter of the cannabis seized annually at the airport.

The Ghanaian boarded a flight in Johannesburg, South Africa, stopping in Dubai and Bangkok before his arrest in Hong Kong around 10.30pm on Sunday.

Customs officers were waiting for him at the customs inspection point, and announced the arrest yesterday.

The courier was working for a South African drug syndicate, said Daniel Cheung, group head of the customs drug investigation bureau.

The arrest was the result of surveillance after a co-operation exercise last December between the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Cheung's bureau to track couriers carrying cannabis and harder drugs such as cocaine.

``The DEA is one of our close partners and for the past few years we've had a lot of successful cases and operations'' as a result, Cheung said.

Customs regularly passes on details to the DEA and agencies in other countries and vice versa, he added.

Sunday's seizure is not the largest recorded but is significant because large caches of cannabis are usually found in sea cargo.

Rarely is it detected on airport passengers, Cheung said.

``Each year at the airport we seize about 10 to 20 kilos of cannabis.

``It is the first cannabis we've found in a circle shape.''

As previous seizures were mainly in slab form, the new shape may indicate a change of tactic by the drug syndicate to try and evade detection, Cheung said.

``Under the X-ray, we may consider it is something different.''

The courier will appear this morning at Tsuen Wan Magistrates' Court charged with trafficking in a dangerous drug.

The maximum penalty is life imprisonment and a HK$5 million fine.

In January 2003, customs officers caught a man carrying HK$10 million worth of ecstasy tablets at Chek Lap Kok airport.

The 37-year-old, whose flight originated in France, had 11 bags of pills - roughly 30,000 tablets, strapped to his abdomen.

In April, two men due to board a Guam-bound plane were stopped and found to be carrying four kilos of suspected ``ice'' methamphetamine worth around HK$1.4 million in their luggage.

A Bolivian couple stopped at the airport last June were found to be carrying more than HK$1.8 million worth of cocaine inside their bodies.

The man, 35, and a woman, 27, admitted to swallowing condoms each containing 40 cocaine tablets, traces of which showed up in a scan of their luggage.