More than 5,500 people, ranging from triad bosses to an 11-year-old boy, were rounded up in Macao, Hong Kong and Guangdong during a three-month joint crackdown, police have revealed.
The annual drive targeting triad activities and organised crime, code-named “Thunderbolt 2021”, was carried out in two phases: from 6 June to 11 July, then from 16 to 30 August.
According to the South China Morning Post, 2,320 people aged between 11 and 84 were arrested in Hong Kong for drug trafficking, deception, bookmaking, money laundering and similar offences.
Chief Superintendent Ryan Wong Wai of the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau (OCTB) said more than 1,100 people were also arrested in neighbouring Guangdong, while another 2,100 people were arrested or taken to police stations in Macao.
Backed by officers from customs, immigration and fire services, Hong Kong police raided nearly 2,000 locations across the city, including drug storage centres, unlicensed pubs, gambling dens and vice establishments.
An annual anti-crime drive since 2000, the joint crackdown is viewed as a “clean-up” campaign ahead of National Day festivities on 1 October.
Wong said officers from the OCTB smashed two triad-controlled bookmaking operations during the massive sweep, arresting 40 people and seizing HK$3.6 billion (US$463 million) in betting records on football matches and horse racing.
Officers also seized HK$21 million in cash and froze bank accounts containing HK$19.5 million in suspected crime proceeds. “HK$3.6 billion in illegal bets was the largest amount of betting records police seized in a decade,” Wong said.
The police also seized machetes, knuckledusters and other assorted weapons during the three months of Operation Thunderbolt.
Wong added it was possible that illegal gambling activities were on the rise locally because of border closures amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Under Hong Kong’s Gambling Ordinance, anyone convicted of illegal bookmaking faces a maximum penalty of seven years in jail and a HK$5 million fine. But Wong warned that even placing an illegal bet was punishable by up to nine months’ jail and a HK$30,000 fine.
The youngest suspect arrested during the summer crackdown was an 11-year-old boy who was detained for assault in August in connection with a triad dispute.
Separately, officers also took down a syndicate whose members had swindled HK$130 million from their victims by posing as officials. The arrests for money laundering and deception followed an exchange of intelligence with mainland authorities and involved the freezing of HK$12 million in alleged illegal proceeds.