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Official: Hong Kong drug operation hauls $98 million worth of cocaine

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:09 PM EDT, Sat July 7, 2012
 A customs officer stands besides seized cocaine packages during a press conference in Hong Kong on July 6, 2012.
A customs officer stands besides seized cocaine packages during a press conference in Hong Kong on July 6, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Hong Kong authorities seize 649 kilograms of cocaine, an official says
  • The operation, codenamed "Surfing Coke," started in April
  • The cocaine seized has a street value of $98 million, an official says

(CNN) -- A joint drug investigation in Hong Kong hauled a record cocaine shipment worth an estimated street value of U.S. $98 million, customs officials said.

The Customs Drug Investigation Bureau of Hong Kong seized 649 kilograms (about 1,425 pounds) of cocaine from a shipping container that arrived from Ecuador, Lee Cheung-wing, the head of the Custom Drug Investigation Bureau, said in a statement released Friday.

Three people, described by Lee, as "local men" were arrested in connection with the seizure, which occurred Wednesday and was made public Friday.

The drug operation began in April when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration began tipping Hong Kong authorities to the arrival of containers from South America, Lee said.

The tips that continued through June came as a result of a joint drug investigation, codenamed "Surfing Coke," that saw Hong Kong customs authorities partner with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection to combat drug trafficking, Lee said.

Neither the DEA nor Customs and Border Protection released details on the drug operation, and their respective Washington offices did not immediately respond to request for comment early Saturday.

Hong Kong customs officials visited three South American countries where they met with their respective counterparts during the investigation, trips that were aimed at "enhancing the mutual anti-narcotics cooperation and intelligence exchange," Lee said.

The cocaine was in a shipment that arrived this week in Hong Kong from Guayaquil, Ecuador, according to Lee.

"Customs officials found inside the container 22 nylon bags containing a total of 541 slabs of cocaine," he said.

"In the afternoon on the same day, a container truck took the container and delivered it to a designated location for collection by two other men."

The 52-year-old driver and two other men, ages 34 and 37, face charges of drug trafficking. The three men were scheduled to appear in court to answer the charges on Sunday, Lee said.

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