Forget cigarette boats or rum-runners: all the best smuggling these days is done by drones.
Drones and giant motorized wheels used to smuggle iPhones to China
Authorities announced last Thursday that they have smashed a gang who used a system of drones, giant motorized wheels and cables to smuggle more than $79 million worth of mobile phones between Hong Kong and mainland China.
Officials arrested 26 people in Shenzhen and three in Hong Kong, seizing two drones, two wheels and nearly 5,000 mobile phones.
The gang, who authorities said had been operating for the past six months, used the drones to fly two 100-metre cables from two high-rise buildings in the border city of Shenzhen, to the roof of a village house in Hong Kong.
The metropolis of Shenzhen sits right on the border of Hong Kong’s rural outskirts. Certain electronic goods, such as iPhones, are more easily available in the separately administered Hong Kong, and they are cheaper – making smuggling them into mainland China a lucrative business.
The operation was sophisticated: soundproofing materials had been installed in the apartments to muffle the noise of the motorized wheels.
Chen Liang, a deputy chief of Shenzhen’s anti-smuggling bureau, said the gang worked from midnight to 5am each morning in an effort to avoid detection.
“Each day, 10,000 to 15,000 mobile phones were smuggled across the border,” Chen said. “As they operated 15 days a month, its monthly income reached over 10 million yuan ($1.6 million).”
A local government source said it took less than a minute to deliver a bag of 20 mobile phones from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, with the gang making more than 200 passes on each cable wire a night.
“It is the first time drones were found being used in cross-border smuggling activities,” the source said.
“The smuggling activity was designed to avoid paying mainland hefty tariffs such as a 17 per cent value-added tax.”
It’s believed to have been the largest cross-border smuggling operation in recent years.
Although using a drone is a first, this isn’t the first time a gang has used this method to smuggle goods across the border.
In August 2011, Chinese and Hong Kong customs officers broke up a syndicate that used a fishing line to ferry gadgets from the city to Shenzhen. The gang had been in operation for about two weeks before being shut down.
The fishing line was believed to have been shot across the border by a crossbow.