Hong Kong Customs Seize 444 Kg of Liquid Cocaine Hidden in Boxes of Wine, Grape Juice

Published: 18 January 2024

Liquid Drug Hong-KongThe 444 kg liquid cocaine seizure is a record in Hong Kong Customs history. (Photo: Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department, License)

By Henry Pope

Hong Kong Customs reported early this week the seizure of approximately 444 kilograms of suspected liquid cocaine hidden inside boxes of wine and grape juice, a record haul for the anti-smuggling agency.

The liquid cocaine, seized in late 2023 at the Kwai Chung Customhouse Cargo Examination Compound, along the southern tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, currently holds an estimated market value of roughly HK$490 million (US$62.6 million). It is the largest liquid cocaine seizure on record for Hong Kong Customs.

Officers discovered the cocaine following a search of a 20-foot seaborne container arriving from Brazil, which intelligence had flagged as potentially compromised by drug trafficking activity.

Officially, the manifest declared that the container was carrying wine and grape juice.

A subsequent inspection of the cargo, however, revealed that one-fifth of the boxes were in fact carrying liquid cocaine, housed within transparent plastic bags. The total weight was approximately 444 kg.

Transnational crime organizations continue to display ingenious methods of smuggling their product past authorities.

Take liquid cocaine, for instance, which is produced by dissolving cocaine in water, solvents, or other liquids. The mixture is then concealed within innocuous containers such as wine and grape juice, so that mules will have an easier time smuggling their loads past customs officials.

Once the shipments have cleared customs, the drugs are transported to highly sophisticated clandestine labs where they can be separated from whatever substance was used to mask their presence. Afterwards, they are distributed to street dealers for sale.

Cocaine is far more difficult to detect in liquid rather than powdered form, as the odor emitted by whatever it is mixed in confuses dogs and drug detection devices.

Other narcotics can similarly be dissolved to fool police, as was the case in June 2023 when Australian, Canadian, and New Zealand authorities worked together to seize more than 6,000 liters of liquid methamphetamine, hidden in bottles of canola oil. The combined seizures would’ve netted transnational organized crime groups US$1.17 billion on the black market.

Hong Kong Customs took two men into custody following the liquid cocaine’s discovery. One was a 38-year-old man who claimed to be unemployed, the other a 50-year-old man who claimed to own a transportation company.

Police say there may be further arrests.