- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2018

Chinese authorities have busted a group of people accused of using drones to smuggle nearly $80 million worth of smartphones from Hong Kong to mainland China.

Customs officials arrested 26 suspected criminals accused of participating in a sophisticated smuggling ring that allegedly transported thousands of smartphones a day between Hong Kong and Shenzhen, regional media reported.

Using a system of drones, motorized wheels and cables suspended between high rises located on either side of the border, the suspects allegedly smuggled $79.8 million worth of smartphones over the span of several months, the reports said.

The suspects are accused of using the drones to fly a pair of 100-meter cables between the buildings, the South China Morning Post reported. They then attached small bags stuffed with Apple iPhones and other mobile devices to the cables and subsequently fed them from from one side to the other, according to Chen Liang, deputy chief of the Wenjindu branch of Shenzhen’s anti-smuggling bureau.

“Each day, 10,000 to 15,000 mobile phones were smuggled across the border,” Mr. Chen said, SCMP reported Thursday. “As they operated 15 days a month, its monthly income reached over 10 million yuan,” he said, or about $1.59 million USD per month.

Officials busted the suspected smuggling ring in early February, arresting 26 people in Shenzhen and seizing two drones, two wheels and 4,000 mobile phones, SCMP reported. Another three men were arrested in Hong Kong and caught with 900 additional phones, the newspaper reported.

The incident marks the first known case of drones being used in cross-border smuggling crimes, according to Legal Daily, a state-run news outlet.

Smartphone prices can differ drastically between Hong Kong and the mainland, where taxes and other levies typically make iPhones up to 30 percent more expensive, the Apple Insider website reported.

“The price gap between the mainland and Hong Kong is big [about US$200] and some potential buyers want to buy in Hong Kong,” Shanghai-based analyst Mo Jia told SCMP previously.

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