A group of criminals in China were caught smuggling 500 million yuan ($79.8 million) worth of refurbished iPhones from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, using drones connected via cables to transport the smartphones. Reported by the Legal Daily (via Reuters), customs officers in Shenzhen caught the group and ceased its illegal actions, arresting 26 total suspects in the process.
The group was using drones to fly two 660-foot cables between Hong Kong and the mainland as a method of transporting the iPhones. They typically operated after midnight and into the morning hours, and “only needed seconds” to transport small bags that held 10 iPhones or more using the cable-connected drones. In one night, they could reach a quota of as many as 15,000 iPhones transported.
According to a news conference held by the customs officers, this marks “the first case found in China that drones were being used in cross-border smuggling crimes.”
Shenzhen customs was quoted by the Legal Daily as saying it would closely monitor new types of smuggling with high-tech devices and enhance their capability with technical equipment, including drones and high-resolution monitors, to detect smuggling activity.
Drone regulations are said to be “an important task” for Chinese officials, with the government publishing a series of strict rules in 2017 after drones were found to be interfering with aircraft flight paths. Civilian drone owners are now required to register any drone “up to a certain weight” using their real names.
While using drones might be new, the act of individuals attempting to smuggle iPhones out of Hong Kong has certainly been around for years. In early 2015, a man tried to smuggle 94 iPhones into mainland China by strapping them onto his body and under his clothes. Smuggling operations pop up frequently because of higher import taxes, which cause the iPhones to be more expensive in the mainland than they are in Hong Kong.