Hong Kong law enforcers confiscated more than seven tonnes of endangered wood worth HK$5.5 million (US$709,489) hidden in two shipping containers from India and was bound for mainland China, where they would be made into luxury furniture and carvings, customs officials said on Wednesday.
The 7.4 tonnes of red sandalwood were shipped from India. Photo: Felix Wong
A 63-year-old consignee – a Hong Kong man – was arrested on Monday after customs officers posing as logistics workers delivered the two containers to a secluded container yard in Yuen Long.
The red sandalwood, also called “red gold” for its high value, was concealed in 222 items of furniture, mainly sofas, according to the Customs and Excise Department.
“It’s the first-ever detention of smuggling wood logs concealed inside furniture and detected by Hong Kong Customs,” said Superintendent Rita Li Yim-ping of the Customs’ Syndicate Crimes Investigation Bureau.
The two shipments, declaring to be carrying non-controlled wood and furniture, arrived in Hong Kong from India on March 24.
Through risk assessment, customs officers selected the two containers for inspection. X-ray images raised suspicions about the containers’ content, and they were opened for inspection at the Kwai Chung cargo examination compound on Monday.
Some non-controlled wood was placed near the door of each container. Behind the wood were 234 items of furniture.
|The red sandalwood logs were concealed in furniture items such as sofas. Photo: Felix Wong|
“The 7.4 tonnes of red sandalwood were concealed inside the hollow centres of 222 of the 234 furniture,” said Superintendent Aubrey Au Shuk-yi of Customs’ Ports and Maritime Command.
Each furniture stored one or two wood logs that were tied to the frame of the furniture.
The wood logs seized were in various sizes and some were about 40kg in weight and 2m in length.
Li said she believed the haul was bound for mainland China and intended for use in the manufacture of luxury furniture and carvings.
The suspect had been released, pending further investigation.
According to the department, investigation was still under way and further arrests were possible.
This was the 13th case of smuggling red sandalwood detected by Customs since 2009, with a total seizure of 183 tonnes of the wood with an estimated value of HK$100 million. The biggest case consisted of 41 tonnes of the hardwood confiscated in 2009.
A law enforcement source said red sandalwood could be bought for as low as HK$200,000 per one tonne in India, but it is worth about HK$750,000 a tonne in Hong Kong.
Red sandalwood is listed as endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Importing or exporting endangered wood without a permit carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a HK$10 million fine.
Importing or exporting unmanifested goods carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison and a HK$2 million fine.
Customs urged members of the public to report suspected smuggling activities to its 24-hour hotline at 2545 6182.