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Chinese smugglers used drones to illegally move $80 million worth of iPhones




A sophisticated smuggling operation involving drones, high-rise buildings and massive quantites of iPhones was brought down by Chinese customs officers last week.

Reuters reports that 26 suspects were arrested in connection with illegally bringing hundreds of thousands of refurbished iPhones from Hong Kong to China’s tech-hub, Shenzen.

How did they do it?

Map of Hong Kong and Shenzen

The entrepreneurial smugglers used an unknown number of drones (one would think many) to form a connection between two, 200-meter (660 feet) cables on top of high-rise buildings in Hong Kong and the mainland. Once the smuggling cable was in place, the group would use a pully system to bring across packages of ten iPhones at a time. The 26 person operation were alledgedly able to sneak up to 15,000 iPhones a night across the border.

In many parts of the world, drones are becoming a ‘must-have’ for petty criminals. Considering UAVs are reasonably cheap and enable the rapid movements of goods between locations – they are often seen as an ideal method for transporting illicit items. One such example was the news that a UK group had been using UAVs to smuggle cellphones and drugs into British prisons.

How will authorities combat this type of behaviour?

Shenzen is the home to the world’s largest consumer drone manufacturer, DJI. Unsurprisingly then, authorities believe that part of the solution to combating smuggling will come through the deployment of drones equipped with high-res cameras. Funny that!


A photo of the cable used to bring the iPhones into China. Credit: Legal Daily

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