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Chinese authorities arrest iPad-smuggling 'mules'

Women taped phones to their torsos, carried iPads as they crossed the border from Hong Kong

December 8, 2010 02:33 PM ET

Computerworld - Chinese customs officials last week arrested 14 women trying to smuggle 88 Apple iPads and 340 smartphones into the country, according to a report in a state-controlled newspaper Wednesday.

Earlier today, the Wall Street Journal noted the report in the Guangzhou Daily.

The latter is the official publication of the Guangzhou municipal Communist Party committee.

The women, all of whom the newspaper said were "dressed fashionably," had taped devices to their bodies or were carrying them in large handbags as they entered the country at Shenzhen, a south China city just across the border from Hong Kong.

Customs became suspicious when video surveillance cameras showed that more than a dozen women were dressed similarly, and all carried a large bag over the shoulders.

One woman had fixed 65 phones to her torso, and was carrying another 20 in her bag, said the Guangzhou Daily.

Chinese custom officials also seized 88 iPad tablets in the arrests.

The women, who were from Shenzhen, Shantou -- another city in Guangdong Province -- and other southern cities, earned about 200 yuan, or $30, each time they smuggled devices into China, the newspaper said. The 14 remain in detention.

Customs valued the seized electronics at 950,000 yuan, or $142,500.

Apple has sold the Wi-Fi iPad in China since September, and prices the tablet between 3,988 and 5,588 yuan, or $598 to $839. It does not sell the 3G model of the tablet in China.

In Hong Kong, however, Apple sells both iPad models, including the device equipped for 3G data reception. There, the 3G iPad starts at 4,888 Hong Kong dollars, or $629.

The iPhone 4 is sold by Apple without a service contract, or by China Unicom with one.

Smuggle photo
One woman arrested by customs authorities had taped 65 phones to her body. Credit: Guangzhou Daily

China has tried to crack down on smartphone smugglers -- in April, authorities arrested over 150 to break a major ring -- but the "gray market" remains resilient. According to estimates earlier this year, as many as two million iPhones not sold by China Unicom -- outside Apple, the only official supplier -- are being used in the country.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at Twitter @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed Keizer RSS. His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

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