Flying Above The Law: Chinese Gangs Used Drones To Smuggle $80 Million In iPhones Into China

On March 29, the General Administration of Customs People’s Republic of China arrested 26 criminals who were part of a high stakes iPhone smuggling operation. The criminal ring used consumer drones to smuggle 500 million yuan ($79.8 million) worth of smartphones between Hong Kong and the mainland city of Shenzhen, the state-owned Legal Daily reported.

Customs officials describe the smuggling operation as the “flying line,” where 26 criminals used drones to transport two 200-meter (660-feet) cables between Hong Kong and the mainland China to carry tens of millions of dollars in refurbished iPhones.

A drone that was confiscated after authorities arrested suspects who used drones to smuggle smartphones from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, is pictured in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China March 29, 2018. Liu Youzhi/Southern Metropolis Daily via REUTERS

According to Reuters, the Legal Daily describes the latest bust as part of a much broader acceleration of illegal imports into mainland China, but, “it’s the first case found in China that drones were being used in cross-border smuggling crimes,” customs officials said.

State-owned media reports are unclear about which drone model was used, but speculations from images point to a highly modified DJI Phantom 4 Pro. Interesting enough, DJI is headquartered in Shenzhen, generally considered China’s Silicon Valley.

Under cover of darkness, Reuters reveals how the smuggling operation started around midnight and would continue into the early morning. Once the drones connected the cables between both buildings, the organized crime units were able to transport 15,000 smartphones across the international border per night.

“The smugglers usually operated after midnight and only needed seconds to transport small bags holding more than 10 iPhones using the drones, the report quoted customs as saying. The gang could smuggle as many as 15,000 phones across the border in one night, it said.”

A customs officer speaks at the crime scene after authorities arrested suspects who used drones to smuggle smartphones from Hong Kong to Shenzhen, in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China March 29, 2018. Liu Youzhi/Southern Metropolis Daily via REUTERS

CCTV News Shenzhen Special Zone News published an exclusive surveillance video of the criminal gangs in action.

Here is social media’s response to the 200-meter “flying line” transporting 15,000 iPhones on a given night across international borders…

One Twitter user said, “And trump thinks a wall will keep drugs out? “Gangs used drones and pulleys to smuggle $80 million in smartphones from Hong Kong, officials say” Washington Post April 2.”

“Eventually, all technology will be used to support crime. Criminals are now using drones to smuggle smartphones into China,” said another Twitter user.

Although using drones to smuggle high-value products like consumer electronics across the Hong Kong/China border appears to be a new technique, the deployment of ziplines has been around for ages.

According to the South China Morning Post, government officials recently busted a criminal gang network, who used fishing line — shot over the international border with a crossbow to transport electronics into Shenzhen.


Pandelis Manthong Mon, 04/02/2018 - 23:52 Permalink


"And trump thinks a wall will keep drugs out?"

Yes, Jill agreed. chump or to be fair, anyone in his position is powerless, but NOT because of technology.  US or any state has plenty of technology.  The thing is about who is running it ... the fish rots from the head down.... clue - look who is running the network from beyond the scenes... ask mr. Pompeo (or if you want to go back further ... president Roosvelt and so on)

In reply to by Manthong

cheka Pandelis Tue, 04/03/2018 - 00:01 Permalink

pikers.  you want some real smuggling?  take a look at this:


According to national figures, from 2003 to 2013, the proportion of public school enrollment ac-counted for by Hispanic students increased from 43.8 percent to 51.8 percent in Texas and from 18.5 percent to 24.8 percent nationwide. During the same period, the proportion of enrollment ac-counted for by White students decreased from 38.7 percent to 29.5 percent in Texas and from 58.7 percent to 50.3 percent nationwide.

National figures indicate the majority of students in Texas (60.1%) were eligible for free or reduced-price meals in the 2013-14 school year, 8.1 percentage points higher than the national average (52.0%). Between 2000-01 and 2013-14, the percentage of eligible students increased by 15.2 percentage points in Texas and by 13.7 percentage points nationwide.

Between 2006-07 and 2016-17, the number of students participating in Title I programs increased by 24.0 percent. In the 2016-17 school year, 65.0 percent of students were enrolled in Title I programs.

Across the five largest racial/ethnic groups in 2016-17, Hispanic students accounted for the largest percentage of total enrollment in open-enrollment charter schools (59.9%), followed by African American (18.8%), White (14.6%), Asian (4.6%), and multiracial (1.7%) students.

• In the 2016-17 school year, 68.6 percent of Texas open-enrollment charter school students were iden-tified as economically disadvantaged.

• According to national figures, public school enrollment in Texas increased by 19.0 percent between 2003 and 2013, more than six times the increase in the United States (3.1%) over the same time pe-riod. This was the second-highest percentage increase in statewide public school enrollment in the nation, behind Utah (26.1%).

Across the five largest racial/ethnic groups in 2016-17, enrollment increased from the previous year for African American, Asian, Hispanic, and multiracial students and decreased for White students.

• Across the same groups, Hispanic students accounted for the largest percentage of total enrollment in Texas public schools in 2016-17 (52.4%), followed by White (28.1%), African American (12.6%), Asian (4.2%), and multiracial (2.2%) students.

Between 1987-88 and 2016-17, the racial/ethnic composition of the student population served by Texas public schools changed. In the 2001-02 school year, the number of Hispanic students surpassed the number of White students for the first time (TEA, 2003). Between 2001-02 and 2016-17, the number of Hispanic students continued to rise, and the number of White students declined (Figure 1 on page 7 and Table 4 on page 8) (see also TEA, 2005). In addition, the percentages of total enrollment represented by Asian and multiracial students steadily increased by 0.1 to 0.2 percentage points each year between the 2009-10 and 2016-17 school years (Table 4 on page 8).

Each year between 2006-07 and 2016-17, the majority of students met the state criteria for economic disadvantage (Figure 2 and Table 7 on page 10). In the 2016-17 school year, 59.0 percent of students were identified as economically disadvantaged. Under Texas Education Agency (TEA) guidelines, stu-dents were identified as economically disadvantaged if they were eligible for free or reduced-price meals under the National School Lunch and Child Nutrition Program (TEA, 2016c).

Between 2006-07 and 2016-17, Hispanic enrollment increased by 681,739 students (32.0%). White students, whose enrollment fell by 133,216 students, or 8.1 percent, over the same period, had the only decrease in enrollment.

The percentages of individual group enrollment accounted for by students identified as economically disadvantaged were larger for Hispanic (75.6%) and African American (71.3%) students than for multiracial (42.9%), White (28.2%), and Asian (27.8%) students in 2016-17 (Table 8 on page 12).

• In 2016-17, Hispanic students accounted for the largest percentage of all students in Texas public schools and of all students identified as economically disadvantaged

Hispanic students, who made up 52.4 percent of total enrollment in the 2016-17 school year, made up 64.3 per-cent of prekindergarten students (Table 4 on page 8, Figure 6, and Table 12 on page 18). In contrast, White students, who made up 28.1 percent of total enrollment, made up 14.8 percent of prekindergar-ten students.

African American and Hispanic representation was smaller in gifted and talented programs (6.4% and 41.4%, respectively) and larger in Title I programs (13.5% and 62.9%, respectively) than in the over-all student population (12.6% and 52.4%, respectively) in 2016-17. Conversely, Asian, White, and multiracial representation was larger in gifted and talented programs (10.3%, 38.8%, and 2.7%, re-spectively) and smaller in Title I programs (2.2%, 19.2%, and 1.6%, respectively) than in the overall student population (4.2%, 28.1%, and 2.2%, respectively).

In reply to by Pandelis

Oracle of Kypseli cheka Tue, 04/03/2018 - 01:17 Permalink

Las year sometime in ZH there was an article about Chinese smuggling Gold and money strapped to heir body. Many of us here suggested that nowadays it's so easy to do with drones. I guess the Gangs there either read zerohedge, are clever enough to do. but not clever enough not to get caught.

That only works for a few times. Eventually, they will catch up with you.

Another way is to fly a kite by the border at night and make it dive down while your partner in crime retrieves the package.     

In reply to by cheka

Dabooda Oracle of Kypseli Tue, 04/03/2018 - 02:00 Permalink

Smuggling is a wonderful thing, and an entirely moral and  honorable profession.  Smuggling is people trading with each other WITHOUT paying extortion to the government.  Both parties to the trade benefit thereby -- and government receives no extortion payment for its dis-services.  The more money retained by the productive private sector, the better -- and the less stolen by the anti-productive, murderous and destructive "public" sector, the better.

But, but, but . . . that would be Breaking The Law!!

You. Damn. Betcha.  Laws that interfere with people trading peaceably with one another are the antithesis of civilization: malevolent tyranny.  Some laws should be gleefully broken, their enforcers held in contempt -- it's a pity tar-and-feathering has gone out of style, because customs agents, tax collectors, and their ilk truly deserve it.

In reply to by Oracle of Kypseli

Singelguy Dabooda Tue, 04/03/2018 - 06:36 Permalink

Trade, tarrifs, and intellectual property rights are far more complex than most people realize. If all players on the world economic stage were equal, then tarrif free trade would be very logical. However, the biggest economies would overwhelm developing economies if they are not protected over the short to medium term in order to give them time to develop their own industries so that they can compete. Imposing long term tarrifs purely for the sake of generating tax revenue is truly theft. If you would like further enlightment, I suggest you read the book Bad Samaritans. 

In reply to by Dabooda

Dabooda Singelguy Tue, 04/03/2018 - 13:53 Permalink

Intellectual property rights are  beyond the scope of a discussion on trade -- the real question there is not a "smuggling" issue -- it is whether or not patent or copyright infringement constitutes theft.  I would not defend the smuggling of stolen goods.

Trade and tariffs, on the other hand, are far simpler issues than YOU realize.  They have been deliberately obfuscated in order to confuse people about what is really going on.  Two classes of people benefit from trade restrictions and tariffs, and ONLY two:  government, and inefficient producers.   Everybody else, they fuck.

The sad story of "developing economies" is a book of lies written by people who want to use government to handicap their competitors, at the expense of their customers AND their competitors, to establish businesses that generally make no economic sense.  If you're a fan of Atlas Shrugged, you ought to know how that story goes.

In reply to by Singelguy

Beaker99 Mon, 04/02/2018 - 23:24 Permalink


Jill Brooks@JillSuzBrooks

And trump thinks a wall will keep drugs out? "Gangs used drones and pulleys to smuggle $80 million in smartphones from Hong Kong, officials say" Washington Post April 2.


Fuck off Jill Brooks. Are gangs going to use drones to fly illegal immigrants over the wall? Who really cares if they fly some bags of coke in from Mexico. No me, that's for sure.

Moribundus Mon, 04/02/2018 - 23:29 Permalink

it is like "smugling" cigarets and alkohol in USA what is highly interesting due absolut nonsense because there  is no internal borders in US.

2nd nonsense is to pay sales tax anytime car is sold. 

3rd nonsense is fireworx. In some states is allowed to sell fireworx that state residents can not buy. It was for decades in PA, they recently change it. Fireworx stores are on state lines to serve residents of neighbouring states like NJ and NY. PA residents buy it thru friends or in MD. When I was explaining this stuff to my friends in EU they were shocked, 

PA has one more specialty Johnstown flood tax on alkohol since 1930's. 

Shed Boy Tue, 04/03/2018 - 00:01 Permalink

I call bs on this story. There is an Apple store on almost every corner in every town in China. iPhones cost more in Hong Kong then mainland China too. An iPhone in China costs the same as here, expensive for the Chinese, but everybody has one and they go nuts when a new model comes out. I bought my iPhone 6s plus when I was there when the 7 came out. People dump a 6 month old phone for cheap there...just like here.

OliverAnd Tue, 04/03/2018 - 00:52 Permalink

VAT/GST in China is 17% while in Hong Kong it is 0%. If they are tax evading they are making 17% off each phone which is substantial if they are crossing thousands of phones each day (that is if phones are not stolen). Where are they getting so many phones from?

zvzzt Tue, 04/03/2018 - 02:53 Permalink

White stuff from Mexico to Texas? Basically any high-value product can be strapped upon drone. Virtually unstoppable at the moment. Even if you can hear them come whizzing by it's hard to detect them (I cannot see mine after 70-80 meters, especially against white clouds). Send 50 at a time with 250 grams per load = 12.5kg * 24 sorties (30 minutes one way, not in the dark) = 300 kg per day. B2B price 40k per kilo (50% of street price fair?) = 12 million per day. And of course I'm thinking small and very conservative. Maximum distance about 5 km in decent conditions (flat terrain+fair weather) for simple drone (Phantom 4). Massive drones with 100kg+ payload even better of course. 

Best of all, few people involved and super mobile launching sites (and no need to dig a big tunnel from fixed position). 

Disgruntled Goat Tue, 04/03/2018 - 03:07 Permalink

I knew guys in the 80s who were using ultralights to bring small amounts of marijuana across the Mexican border, landing on roads in the middle of the desert .... this type of shit is nothing new

Vilfredo Pareto Tue, 04/03/2018 - 07:59 Permalink

This is as good a place as any to threadjack.   Google hides Russian surveillance from surveillance targets in the USA and in Russia.


Some might consider that statement misleading.  None can call it a lie, eh google?  What say ye?


I am the zen hacker.  I caught the FBI, NSA, google, and Russian mitm with their pants down.  Busted ruskie mitm in the vladivistock and Moscow airports.  They have no idea how I did it.  Dumbfucks.


If a dumbass like me can do it who else has been watching google and the spooks?  Makes me wonder.   I will be interested to hear from Mr Packet Analyzer here again on ZH if he maps out the FBI/NSA switching stations like he claims he is doing.  I found a few myself before google shut me down.  Don't believe me?  Austin is the heart of the beast in Texas for several states apparently, at least two.


If you want to follow my path you have to do it on your own.  I pinky swore to FBI and NSA a peace treaty.  I take pinky swearing seriously, unlike others.