More than 180 people have been rounded up in a crackdown on a triad faction that recruited teenagers into the drug and sex trades, police said on Tuesday.
At least 10 brothels, gambling dens and illegal pubs controlled by the gang were also closed down in a series of raids which began two weeks ago after an officer went undercover among its members.
By Tuesday afternoon, anti-triad officers were still searching for the ringleader and core figures of the gang, which was active in Yuen Long.
The raids followed a seven-month operation in which an undercover officer was deployed in June to gather evidence, according to assistant Yuen Long district commander for crime, Superintendent AuYeung Siu-kong.
He said the officer had been sent to join the syndicate because intelligence indicated it had launched a recruitment drive in the summer.
"Months of investigation showed the triad gang used youngsters to help run illegal business in the district of Yuen Long such as recruiting people into a triad society, drug-related crimes, sex activities and illegal gambling," he said.
Between January 6 and 20, officers swooped into action and raided tens of locations such as brothels, gambling dens, illegal pubs and flats in the district.
They arrested 186 people - 68 men and 118 women - aged between 14 and 71.
Among those arrested were 15 suspected triad members and 64 suspected mainland Chinese prostitutes. Nine of the 15 suspected gangsters were teenagers, aged between 14 and 17.
The suspects were arrested for various offences such as recruiting people into a triad society, claiming to be triad members, possession of offensive weapons, trafficking in a dangerous drug, aiding and abetting illegal gambling establishments, and selling liquor without a licence.
It was understood that the gang approached some the teenagers - among them school dropouts - at Yuen Long games centres and playgrounds, offering protection from bullies before luring them to join the triad faction.
A police source said the youths were recruited to work as lookouts at the vice establishments and gambling dens, or take part in drug-related crimes.
"They might also be asked to join street fights or showdowns for the gang," he said.
During the operation, police seized HK$33,000 worth of illegal drugs, 38 mahjong tables and weapons such as knives, wooden bats and sharpened metal pipes, along with HK$22,000 in cash.
AuYeung said the operation had dealt a heavy blow to the triad gang, adding that the investigation was continuing and further arrests were possible.
Police handled 1,155 reports of triad-related crimes in the first 11 months of 2019, down 22.7 per cent from 1,494 in the same period of 2018. Since June 2019, police resources have been tied up with the anti-government protests, which were sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill.
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