- Bags with 20 devices could be whizzed across the border in seconds
- Phone filled bags were clipped to cables and pulled across borders
- The suspects smuggled about $79.5 million worth of smartphones
In Shenzhen, a major technology hub sometimes referred to as China's Silicon Valley, authorities arrested 26 suspects and seized two drones and thousands of iPhones, state media and Reuters reported. In Hong Kong, customs officers arrested three suspects and seized another 900 smartphones, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post. The joint sting operation was conducted in February but the details weren't released until Friday.
"It's the first case found in China that drones were being used in cross-border smuggling crimes," reported the state-owned Legal Daily.
Authorities said the suspects were members of several gangs who worked under the cover of darkness to surreptitiously move huge volumes of undeclared, refurbished iPhones and other devices across the border.
One group of people would set up in a pair of high rise condos in Shenzhen and use drones to fly cables over a border fence to another group on the roof of a village house about 660 feet away in Hong Kong, according to state media. The cables were then attached to motorized wheels, in what authorities called a "flying line."
Once the system was in place, authorities said, the smugglers clipped bags filled with smartphones to the cables and pulled them across the border.
The scale of the alleged operation was staggering. Authorities said bag after bag carrying roughly 20 devices could be whizzed across the border in a matter of seconds. The suspects typically worked from midnight to 5 a.m. about 15 days per month, transporting 10,000 to 15,000 smartphones each night, according to customs officials quoted in the South China Morning Post. They estimated the suspects took in roughly 10 million yuan (about $1.6 million) monthly.
Investigators said a tip from a member of the public led them to the buildings on either side of the border, according to Legal Daily. All told, the suspects smuggled 500 million yuan (about $79.5 million) worth of devices, officials said.
After announcing the arrests, officials held a news conference in which they demonstrated how the "flying line" worked.
Cracking down on the use of civilian drones has been a heavy lift for China, the world's largest drone manufacturer. Last year, the government issued new regulations requiring most commercial drones to be registered under owners' real names, following a series of incidents in which the flying robots disrupted air traffic.
Although drone-assisted smuggling on the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border appears to be new, the use of zip lines for surreptitious transport isn't. According to the South China Morning Post, customs officials in 2011 broke up a smuggling ring that used fishing line - apparently shot over the border with a crossbow - to ferry gadgets into Shenzhen.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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