HONG KONG (Reuters) - A joint operation by Hong Kong and U.S. authorities, nicknamed 'Surfing Coke', has helped net the city's largest cocaine haul, worth around HK$760 million ($98 million).
In a statement released late on Friday, the Hong Kong government said its customs department had discovered 649 kg (1,425 pounds) of cocaine in a container shipped from Ecuador.
Disguised as blocks of laurel wood, officers found 22 nylon bags containing a total of 541 slabs of cocaine, with each slab weighing about 1.2 kg.
Three local men have been arrested and were to appear in court on Saturday. If convicted, they could face life imprisonment and a fine of HK$5 million for trafficking in a dangerous drug.
Lee Cheung-wing, head of Hong Kong's Customs Drug Investigation Bureau, said the city had been working with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection this year to combat the rising frequency of narcotics being transported to Hong Kong.
"Between April and June this year, the DEA has referred a batch of Hong Kong-bound containers exported from South American countries to Hong Kong Customs for follow-up action," he said in the statement.
Hong Kong police smashed a multinational drug syndicate, seizing cocaine worth HK$600 million and arresting eight people, in September 2011.
Drugs shipped to Hong Kong are believed to be bound for larger markets such as the mainland. Lee said the latest cocaine haul was likely to have been heading to a Southeast Asian country or the mainland, according to local media.
(Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Ron Popeski)