Apple iPhones Worth $80 Million Smuggled By Drones

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Smuggler Drones used by smugglers to smuggle iPhones.

Despite how hackneyed it sounds it’s exactly what happened in China that left authorities at Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) stunned. Chinese customs officials busted a group of criminals who used aerial drones to smuggle refurbished iPhones worth US$79.8 million from Hong-Kong to the mainland city of Shenzhen.

The criminals used unmanned aerial vehicles to fly two 660-feet cables between Hong Kong and China’s mainland as the method for transporting the payload. They usually operated after midnight and only needed a few seconds to transport small bags that held more than 10 iPhones using drones. According to Reuters, the gang could smuggle as many as 15,000 iPhones per night across the border. In about six-month time, that added up to 500 million yuan ($79.8 million) in refurbished iPhones. Authorities caught the gang and ceased its illegal actions, arresting 26 suspects.


“It’s the first case found in China that drones were being used in cross-border smuggling crimes”, reports state-owned Legal Daily, citing a Shenzhen customs news conference held on Thursday.

The Rise of Apple iPhone Smugglers: Blame High Taxation

Smuggling of Apple iPhone occurs frequently due to the higher import taxes, which leads to Apple iPhones being more expensive in the mainland than they are in Hong Kong. Smuggling gangs often steal devices or buy them at extremely low rates and sell them for a higher price in China. It results in a profitable business for smugglers and a good opportunity for consumers to get cheap prices for authentic products.

Although it is unclear exactly which drones were used for the heist, Drone Life speculates that at least one was a modified DJI Phantom 4, judging from the images released by Chinese media. Shenzhen is essentially China’s tech hub and also home to a DJI plant. It won’t be incongruous to think that the drone used for the crime might be manufactured in the mainland city. Ironic!

Regulation in the use of drones is said to be “an important task” for China, world’s largest manufacturer of consumer drones.

China enacted strict drone laws last year after the incident of drones’ near-misses with aeroplanes and interfering with aircraft flight paths. Also, China made it mandatory that owners of civilian drones (weighing a particular amount) are required to register the UAVs under their real name.

This incident has been asserted as the latest escalation in a cross-border smuggling operation that has been going on for years.


Shenzhen Customs, quoted by the Legal Daily, said that they would be closely monitoring smuggling operations with high-tech devices. They are looking forward to enhancing their capability with drones and high-resolution monitors to detect smuggling activities.

These events have highlighted the potential of UAVs and how drones can be used for illegal practices. No matter how nifty, they can be used for criminal activity too. Drones have been used before to smuggle contraband into a prison. A gang in Britain used a drone to deliver goods to inmates inside.

While using drones might be new, the act of smuggling high-value products – like jewellery, luxury products and smartphones – has been around for years in China. In early 2015, a man allegedly tried to smuggle 94 iPhones into mainland China under his clothes by strapping them onto his body. The government of China has been rigorously working to thwart such operations and debunk what has become an increasingly powerful black market.


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