Smugglers used drones and inter-skyscraper cables to get $80m of iPhones into China

Last week, Chinese border patrol authorities arrested 26 smugglers for running a smuggling operation that made Ocean’s Eleven look like stealing candy from an unattended Halloween bowl. Under the cover of night, the smugglers flew two 660-foot-long cables between skyscrapers in Hong Kong and mainland China using drones. Packing tiny bags full of refurbished iPhones, […]


April 3, 2018

Last week, Chinese border patrol authorities arrested 26 smugglers for running a smuggling operation that made Ocean’s Eleven look like stealing candy from an unattended Halloween bowl.

Under the cover of night, the smugglers flew two 660-foot-long cables between skyscrapers in Hong Kong and mainland China using drones. Packing tiny bags full of refurbished iPhones, the hardware-traffickers transported 15,000 phones across the border before sunrise.

Why go to such great lengths (and heights)… for iPhones?

The tiny Sham Chun River is all that physically separates the “Special Administrative Region” of Hong Kong from the city of Shenzhen, a part of mainland China — but the two cities are worlds apart for consumers.

“Special” tax exemptions make iPhones $200 cheaper in Hong Kong than across the river, opening up a huge black market for iPhones and other luxury items along the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border. 

People will do anything… for the right profit margin

The recent heist was far from the first high-profile smuggling case — last year, a woman was apprehended with 102 iPhones strapped to her chest — but it was the first time commercial drones were known to be adapted for smuggling in China. 

Authorities in Shenzhen (which is home to DJI, the world’s largest commercial drone manufacturer) have announced plans to combat drone-smuggling with a combination of high-resolution surveillance — and more drones, the classic fix for everything!

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