HK$600 billion in cash disclosed at Hong Kong’s borders since new declaration law took effect in July
Travellers and shippers are now required to declare any cash sum of more than HK$120,000. One sent in currency worth HK$3 billion by air
Cash worth close to HK$600 billion (US$76.6 billion) has crossed Hong Kong's borders by hand or cargo since a declaration law took effect in mid-July to fight money laundering - and a single shipment carried more than HK$3 billion.
Travellers and shippers are now required to disclose any cash sum of more than HK$120,000, and 12,126 declarations have been made.
The HK$600 billion is even larger than Hong Kong government spending for the current financial year - estimated at HK$557.9 billion - and is equivalent to half of the city's fiscal reserves, which stood at HK$1.1 trillion as of March.
The Customs and Excise Department has made its first arrest since the end in mid-October of a three-month grace period for the law. A cargo delivery of about HK$200,000 was involved, according to sources.
A spokesman for the department said an investigation was under way.
Government sources said the single biggest cargo declaration as at the end of November was for more than HK$3 billion in assorted currencies sent by air.
It was among 4,000 cargo declarations involving a total of HK$505.6 billion. The amount was split roughly by half between imports and exports.
Some 8,126 individual travellers declared a total of HK$89.8 billion. More than 60 per cent came or left by sea while 30 per cent took a plane, and a few per cent used land borders.
One visitor working in financial services declared HK$230 million and arrived by sea accompanied by hired guards. The cash was stored in waterproof bags and came from another Asian country.
The spokesman said 96 per cent of the HK$600 billion had been sent by financial institutions.
The new rule aims to help officials monitor money movements and tackle dirty cash and terrorist financing.
"It is not currency control and does not restrict the free flow of legitimate capital," the spokesman said.
The grace period saw the department issue 23 written warnings - 20 to travellers and three for cargo.
Between the end of the period and November 30, officials found 20 travellers failing to declare.
"Most of them are Hong Kong residents. One was found carrying a few million Hong Kong dollars," a source said.
All have been fined HK$2,000 - the penalty for first-time offenders whose money is not suspected of being the proceeds of crime or the property of terrorists.
The maximum penalty for the offence is two years in prison and a HK$500,000 fine.
Customs officers said they would step up enforcement where appropriate.
Figures from Hong Kong's anti-money-laundering squad show authorities seized HK$7.87 billion in illicit cash and assets in the first 11 months of this year. The amount was 150 times the HK$52 million law enforcers took from criminals last year. Police said the increase was mainly due to one particular ongoing money laundering probe involving HK$7.3 billion worth of assets.
According to the Joint Financial Intelligence Unit, made up of police and customs officers, reports of transactions with suspected links to money laundering or terrorist financing increased from 23,282 in 2012 to 92,115 last year. There were 69,774 such reports in the first 11 months of this year.