Authorities in Hong Kong announced Friday they had arrested 119 people and seized more than 3 million illicit cigarettes after cracking down on smugglers running home delivery services.
According to custom officials, smuggling groups had been forced to change their delivery methods for the illegal smokes after clampdowns on local stores pawning the cigarettes.
With storefronts out of the question, smugglers turned to traditional paper advertisement, posting circulars and fliers in Hong Kong’s numerous public housing estates that offered the cut rate smokes for order by telephone with delivery in one to two days.
“It’s very easy because in Hong Kong there are so many public housing estates, they just employ a few persons to deliver the leaflets,” said Wan Hing-chuen, a divisional commander at the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department.
ABC News notes that one flyer for the illicit dial-a-smoke operation advertised cartons of Marlboro cigarettes at HK$200-HK$240 ($26-$31) per carton, a figure less than half the normal retail price in Hong Kong.
Wan added that the smugglers rented warehouses or apartments to use as distribution centers.
HuffPo notes that the arrests and seizures in 96 separate cases were carried out from April to October.
Among those arrested were 61 buyers, including seven senior citizens, he said. Some 41 vehicles were also seized, including some trucks involved in involved in smuggling the cigarettes into Hong Kong from mainland China.
Officials calculated the total worth of the seized cigarettes to be approximately 7.2 million Hong Kong dollars ($930,000) and said the smokes were liable for unpaid taxes and duties amounting in HK$5.2 million.