Liquid Cocaine Disguised as White Wine Seized in Hong Kong

A cocaine trafficking operation discovered by authorities in Hong Kong netted two arrests and revealed a particularly creative smuggling method: liquid cocaine substituted for boxed wine.
liquid cocaine
Photo: Yik Yeung-man

A multi-million dollar cocaine smuggling attempt was thwarted last month when Chinese customs officials discovered the cocaine had been converted into liquid form and disguised as white wine. 

According to the South China Morning Post, two men local to Hong Kong were arrested in connection with a shipping container sent from Brazil to Hong Kong which was carrying 706 bottles of red wine, white wine and juice. The container was flagged for inspection at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound due to Brazil’s status as a high-risk trafficking area based on the frequency of past narcotics seizures. 

Assistant Superintendent Jacky Tsang Kin-bon of the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department told the South China Morning Post that the monetary value of the amount of cocaine seized was in the hundreds of millions of dollars range. 

“A total of 444 kilograms of suspected liquid cocaine was discovered in the 37 boxes,” Tsang Kin-bon said. “The estimated street value of the haul is about HK $490 million.”

Tsang Kin-bon indicated that what tipped authorities off to the suspicious contents of the container was that several of the boxes appeared to have been resealed, specifically boxes of white wine, packed in 37 boxes which were supposed to be packaged with four three-liter bags of white wine a piece. These bags tested positive for cocaine. 

The container had been sent by plain clothes officers with Hong Kong customs to Yuen Long where they waited for someone to come collect it. When no one did, it was sent to a yard in Kwai Chung where it was placed under 24-hour surveillance. Eventually, a 50-year-old man turned up to collect the container. He was later arrested along with his 38-year-old accomplice, neither of which was named by the South China Morning Post

Superintendent Lui Chi-tak of customs’ ports and maritime command told the South China Morning Post that “drug traffickers took every effort and deployed sophisticated methods to conceal the narcotic in an attempt to evade customs detection.” Senior Superintendent Wong added that this was the largest liquid cocaine bust by weight in the 20 years they’ve been keeping records of such things. 

Customs officials told the Post that the younger suspect was arrested on Saturday and the older a day later. The younger suspect was allegedly responsible for arranging the cargo’s transport from Brazil To Hong Kong and the older suspect was allegedly responsible for collecting and storing the drugs once on Chinese soil. 

As of Monday when the report was published, both suspects were still being held for questioning. Tsang Kin-bon told the post that the increase in product shipments around the holidays is often used as cover for the smuggling of narcotics.

“We believe the drug trafficking syndicate tried to take advantage of the busy logistics services before the Christmas and New Year holidays to smuggle the narcotic into the city and evade detection,” Tsang Kin-bon said, also indicating that their investigation revealed the large shipment was intended to supply the increased demand for cocaine around the holiday season (Chinese New Year is on February 10 and for whatever reason I feel compelled to disclose that 2024 is the year of the dragon).

According to the Post, the investigation into this instance of cocaine trafficking is still ongoing and customs officials have not ruled out further arrests. Trafficking of a dangerous drug in Hong Kong is punishable by a life sentence in prison and a fine of up to $5 million.

“Customs will continue to use its professionalism and determination to prevent illegal drugs from being smuggled into the city, thereby safeguarding the country’s southern gateway,” Senior Superintendent Wong said.

Not for nothing, but cocaine traffickers appear to be getting much more creative with their smuggling techniques. Not only has cocaine been disguised as white wine, but a cursory Google search will show that in recent months it has also been disguised as pasta noodles, charcoal, almond syrup, and bananas and that’s just since last June. Between that, and the constant barrage of headlines concerning kilograms of cocaine washing up on beaches all over the world, it would appear that internationally, narcotics agents are playing a very expensive and futile game of whack-a-mole with cocaine traffickers. 

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