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Reading of charge against Filipino linked to $490m cocaine haul put off

23 January 2024

Customs displays the liquid cocaine it had seized

A Filipino who has been in jail since he was arrested last Jan. 13 on a charge of attempting to traffic in drugs, will have to wait until April 9 for the case to be read to him at the West Kowloon court in Cheung Sha Wan.

Magistrate Pang Leung-ting granted the prosecutor’s request for an adjournment on Monday to wait for the Government Laboratory to finish the analysis of what was described as dangerous drugs seized from Aster Leo Balucanag, 38 years old, and a local resident.

He was accused of attempting to traffic in a dangerous drug, in violation of the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance and the Crime Ordinance; the other man was charged separately.

The original charge sheet filed last Jan. 16, identified the dangerous drug as 444 kilos of cocaine, but this was crossed out pending confirmation by government chemists.


​A press release by Hong Kong Customs, however, described the drug as suspected liquid cocaine with an estimated market value of about $490 million -- a record seizure of liquid cocaine by Customs.

“Acting on intelligence analysis, Customs officers selected a 20-foot seaborne container, declared as carrying wine and grape juice, and arriving in Hong Kong from Brazil, for inspection. Upon examination, 148 packages of suspected liquid cocaine packed in transparent plastic bags were found inside 37 out of 706 carton boxes of wine. The total weight was about 444kg,” the Customs press statement said.

Upon a follow-up investigation, Customs officers conducted controlled delivery operations, and arrested Balucanag who claimed to be unemployed and a 50-year-old man who claimed to be a transportation company owner, on Jan. 13 and 14, respectively.


An investigation is ongoing and the likelihood of further arrests is not ruled out, Customs said.

Under the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, trafficking in a dangerous drug is a serious offence. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $5 million and life imprisonment.

Members of the public may report any suspected drug trafficking activities to Customs' 24-hour hotline 2545 6182 or its dedicated crime-reporting email account ( or online form (


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