Chinese police have smashed a mobile phone smuggling ring that involved up to 160 people and was worth over 7.8 billion yuan (US$1.1 billion), state media said late Wednesday.
The investigation by customs police led to the arrest of more than 100 suspects in the country's biggest mobile phone smuggling case, the state-run Xinhua news agency said, citing information from a customs work meeting.
At least four suspects have already been sentenced to prison terms from just over one year to as much as 15 years by a court in Zhuhai, in the southern province of Guangdong, Xinhua said. Authorities confiscated money and smuggled goods worth over 20 million yuan ($3 million) from the ring, it said.
The case is a rare example of work China is doing to crack down on parts of its mobile phone industry that can seem anarchic. Overseas versions of the iPhone, BlackBerry handsets and other popular mobile phones are widely sold in Chinese markets after being informally carried across the border. Two million iPhones are used in China that were not sold by the official distributor, China Unicom, technology consultancy BDA estimates, showing the size of the so-called "gray market" for informally imported electronics.
Mobile phones that violate regulations are also being exported from China. Many counterfeit iPhones and other knock-off handsets are made in China, and many phones in the country lack the government license needed for legal use on a Chinese network.
The production of such unlicensed phones is ballooning. Market researcher iSuppli late last year estimated 110 million units would be exported from China in 2009, up from just 60 million units the year before.