SMP Nov 01, 2009
Barclay Crawford and Joshua But
Lamma Island, long considered the home of Hong Kong's expatriate drug subculture, saw its biggest drug raid in recent memory early yesterday morning.
While many will question whether the raid came 30 years too late, more than 60 police officers swooped on four bars on Yung Shue Wan Main Street, detaining 10 expatriates.
Police said the raids had broken up an expatriate-controlled syndicate selling cocaine and marijuana on the island.
The operation had been carefully planned for months by the marine police's regional crime unit, and involved undercover officers posing as drug users to collect information.
Six men, aged between 25 and 67, were arrested in several bars on Yung Shue Wan Main Street for various narcotics-related offences, including drug possession, trafficking and drug use.
The raids took place at the Island Bar, the Deli Lamma, Diesel's and the Waterfront, from midnight on Friday until about 3am yesterday. Ten to 15 officers were gathered at each bar during the searches.
Also arrested were two men and a woman - either bar managers or owners who allegedly allowed their bars to be used as drug houses. One of the group was accused of dealing drugs. A 19-year-old man was also arrested for obstructing officers in their duty.
Police seized 130 grams of marijuana and 30 grams of cocaine, together worth HK$71,000, during the operation, codenamed Sweep. The 10 expatriates, from Britain, Australia and the Philippines, were detained for questioning on Cheung Chau. Early today a 25-year-old man was charged with drug trafficking and a 42-year-old man was charged with possession of drugs. They will appear in Eastern Court tomorrow. The other eight suspects were released on police bail.
Everyone in the bars was held for an hour and a half while police searched clothes, bags and even shoes and socks.
"There were more than 60 officers, including plain-clothes cops and undercover guys," a witness said. "It was the biggest operation in anyone's memory. There were at least two undercover expatriate officers - one came for drinks for months and another came only recently - and they were helping the police through the operation."
One regular drinker at the Island Bar said there had long been an assumption that Lamma was a haven for drug users, but that was no longer the case. "It's changed a lot since the late '80s and early '90s," the long-time resident said. "It's not like the place is full of hippies sitting around getting off their heads all day - there are lots of professional people and families here."
Islanders questioned the value of the operation. "For such an enormous and long operation, it yielded such a small result," one said. "Drug users on Lamma are recreational ones who might enjoy the odd spliff."
A waste or resources, or the police upholding the law?