A wine company in Macau lost 2600 bottles of wines worth nearly half a million after having entrusted the wines to smugglers who would funnel the tax-free wines to mainland China, sounding off alarm on a grey market practice that is not uncommon in Hong Kong and Macau.
According to Macau Daily News, the Judiciary Police in Macau is investigating two Macau residents, a 38-year-old man surnamed Wu and 31-year-old man surnamed Ke, after a wine trading company owner reported a loss of RMB 2.9 million (US$457,000)worth of wine to the police.
It all started when the company owner, who is unnamed in the report, was referred to Wu, a middleman to smuggle 1200 bottles of tax-free wines to mainland China between last September and November.
As payment, Wu would be paid RMB 70-100 per bottle when wines are successfully delivered across the border, but only 450 bottles made it to the mainland. When asked about the missing wines, Wu claimed he would compensate for the lost 750 bottles.
Surprisingly, instead of aborting the smuggling plan, the wine company again hired Wu to smuggle a much larger amount of wines. In December, the company entrusted Wu to smuggle 3,600 bottles of wine to mainland China. Yet again, 1900 wines went missing, so did Wu this time.
The wine company then reported the case to police. When interrogated by Macau police, Wu claimed part of the wines were confiscated by customs officials, but he was unable to present supporting documents. He also revealed that he asked another smuggler Ke to help transport the wines across the border.
Ke admitted successfully smuggling 30 bottles of wine, but for the rest, he had sold them and profited RMB 1 million (US$157,470).
The case highlights a grey market practice by some merchants in Hong Kong and Macau who would hire middlemen or ‘coyotes’ as known in the trade to smuggle wines to mainland China.
It’s not known the size of the coyote operation but smuggling wines and other goods including milk formula and iPhones into mainland China from tax-free Hong Kong and Macau is not a new phenomenon.
But a surge in smuggled goods was seen in Macau during the pandemic when its neighbour Hong Kong has shut its border with mainland China for two years to combat Covid-19.
This year, a total of MOP 12.25 million (US$1.5 million) in smuggled goods were seized alone in the first two months, of which 20% were involved with Macau residents, Macau Daily Times reports.
The figure represented a sharp increase compared to the total amount of MOP 28 million (US$3.5 million) recorded in the whole year, according to José Pou, the deputy head of the Macau Customs Service.
The case is still under investigation.