A smuggling ring that used a fleet of drones to smuggle approximately 500 million yuan ($79.8 million) worth of refurbished iPhones across the Hong Kong/Chinese border has been broken up by Chinese customs officials.
Authorities arrested 26 suspects who used drones to fly two 200-meter (660-feet) cables between Hong Kong and the mainland to transport refurbished iPhones with a total value of 500 million yuan, the paper said in a report on the crackdown by Shenzhen and Hong Kong customs.
It’s believed that this is the first case where drones were used to smuggle handsets across the Chinese border. A total of 26 suspects were arrested in the crackdown. The gang is believed to have been able to smuggle as many as 15,000 iPhones across the border in one night.
The drones didn’t fly the handsets directly, instead they were deployed to fly the ends of two 660 foot cables across the border to accomplices on the other side. The cables would then be used to drag bags containing up to 10 iPhones at a time across the border. Each transfer was made in mere seconds.
China already has imposed strict regulations on drone use, requiring owners to register the small craft under their real names. Shenzhen customs officials say they will be keeping an eye on new smuggling methods such as the drone scheme, and plan to use their own drones to assist in the crackdown.