Hong Kong’s Customs and Excise Department has condemned “unfounded” rumours about its officers planting evidence on a South Asian man during an anti-counterfeit goods operation. The remark came after an online post alleged that undercover customs staff asked an Indian man to sign for a parcel before arresting him.

In a statement issued on Saturday, the department rejected accusations that some officers tried to incriminate an ethnic minority man by fabricating evidence during an operation on Friday.

Customs and Excise Department. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

According to the department, customs staff seized five suspected fake handbags with an estimated market value of HK$2,000 at a logistics company based in Kwai Chung. The officers then launched a surveillance operation on the parcel delivery and apprehended a 34-year-old man who received the goods.

A total of 89 suspected counterfeit items including handbags, wallets and watches – deemed to worth around HK$40,000 – were also confiscated at the scene of the arrest, the department said.

“Customs stresses that all operations are conducted with fairness, impartiality and professionalism based on facts and evidence,” the statement read. “The department denounces any such irresponsible remarks regarding the allegation of so-called ‘planting of evidence’ by Customs posted on social media platform[s].”

The Customs and Excise Department confirmed with HKFP that the suspect had been granted bail.

‘Great injustice’

The censure from the law enforcement came hours after a netizen named shared a video which appeared to show customs officers arresting a South Asian man in Sham Shui Shui Po. The Instagram user, named “azmat_karavan,” claimed he witnessed how government law enforcement agency officers “framed an ethnic minority youth. “

According to the post, the witness saw an “undercover agent” who was carrying a cardboard box approach an individual whom he described as an Indian youth and asked him to sign for the items.

Photos shows some of the suspected counterfeit goods, including wallets and watches, seized by customs officers in the relevant case. Photo: GovHK.

The witness said the man – reportedly named Ashuk Kumar – responded by saying the goods did not belong to him and said he did not want to receive the parcel. But he eventually signed for the box after the parcel holder kept asking for his signature – shortly afterwards,a group of customs officers emerged and arrested the man, according to the witness.

In a 9-minute video, a group of plainclothes officers who said they were from the customs department appeared to surround an ethnic minority man next to a minivan on Pei Ho Street.

They asked the man if he understood Cantonese and how long he had been in Hong Kong, to which the man replied saying he understood the language and he has been in the city for 17 years. The officers told people at the scene not to interrupt the operation and asked the witness to stop filming.

“Customs is conducting an operation, nothing special,” an officer said.

Photos shows some of the suspected counterfeit handbags seized by customs officers in the relevant case. Photo: GovHK.

A customs staffer asked the man in custody if the goods belonged to him and whether it was his signature on the parcel concerned. The man appears to shake his head and say “no.”

“It is yours, right?” one of the customs officers asked.

The man was eventually led away in handcuffs and escorted onto a minivan a few blocks away. The witness asked which police station the van was heading to and what offence the man was arrested under, but no officers responded.

The video did not show the alleged misconduct of customs officers.

“Tonight, I witnessed a great injustice… This is the first time I witnessed this kind of atrocity, is this how customs enforcement used to be? Do they pick on the weakest and most defenceless people? It’s absolutely disgusting,” the online post read.

In a separate post on Sunday, the original poster said Kumar was granted bail and had returned home. Responding to the customs department’s criticism, the witness asked the department to confirm whether Kumar had refused to sign for the goods and whether the package delivery man – whom the witness suspected to be an undercover officer – had “pestered” Kumar into giving his signature.

Update 12.45 p.m. : The Customs and Excise Department confirmed with HKFP that they officially pressed charges against the 34-year-old consignee.

Correction 10.49 a.m.: An early version of this article erroneously described the suspect as Southeast Asian as opposed to South Asian.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.