HOUSTON — Officials from Homeland Security’s Houston investigation unit say the city has become a focal point for illegal imports, including millions of dollars’ worth of honey from China that has been seized over the last two years.
The Houston Chronicle reports that since October, U.S. Customs and Homeland Security has seized more than 900 drums of Chinese honey that was smuggled through Latvia. That brings the value of illegal Chinese honey seized in Houston over the last two years to nearly $8 million. China is the world’s leading producer of honey.
According to court documents, the honey was routed through Latvia to avoid U.S. duties. Officials were suspicious about the honey because the northern European country produces very little honey.
“For whatever reason, Houston seems to be a focal point for this stuff coming in,” said Richard Halverson, assistant special agent in charge of Homeland Security’s Houston investigations unit. “As with anything else that’s being brought into the U.S., one of our goals is to make sure people are playing by the rules.”
Before the latest seizures, federal agents disrupted a network of honey importers who managed to evade $180 million in antidumping duties, which are penalties placed on imports that are priced at less than fair value. The penalty is imposed to provide relief to domestic industries that may be hurt by the low import values.
Jun Yang of Houston, a key player in illegal importing, informed an undercover agent during recorded conversations about how to avoid antidumping penalties by shipping via third countries. Yang later worked with authorities by giving them information that helped stop other shipments of Chinese honey that were routed through Latvia in order to avoid U.S. duties, according to court documents.
The information that Yang gave highlighted the scope of illegal imports. He offered information about Chinese honey arriving through South Korea, and revealed a potential case of illegal imports in the seafood industry.
Yang pleaded guilty and last year began a three-year prison sentence last year for his involvement in illegal imports.
Michael Coursey, a lawyer who has represented U.S. industries, said the Yang prosecution and the honey seizures in Houston “have been helpful in cleaning up a lot of people’s behavior. But that doesn’t mean the problem is gone.”