A TRIAL was held this week for 25 suspects accused of selling smuggled Apple phones and tablet computers worth 500 million yuan (US$80.25 million) to an online gadget store on Taobao.com, officials said.
The trial was for the members of five smuggling gangs prosecuted for offering more than 162,000 iPhones and iPads to Lanyou Numeral, once the top seller of its kind in the country's most popular online shopping platform, prosecutors said. The smugglers' trial was held on Wednesday in Shenzhen City in southern Guangdong Province.
They also evaded taxes of up to 54.87 million yuan, Shenzhen Intermediate People's Court heard. The Lanyou store shut down in April.
More than half of the suspects are housewives lured to play the part of tourists in Hong Kong to buy up mass quantities of handsets to sell in China's mainland, the Southern Metropolis Daily reported yesterday.
They were paid 20 to 30 yuan in commission for each item.
Shenzhen Customs arrested 104 suspects in April but only 25 went to trial on Wednesday. No verdicts were issued and the status of the others arrested was not clear yesterday.
An investigation started last year when the Hong Kong Independent Commission Against Corruption found Lanyou had lots of the iPhone 4S, which was not released in the mainland until early this year. They were sold below mainland prices.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong residents were finding it hard to find the phones. The release of Apple products in the mainland usually happens months after they go on sale in Hong Kong and the Apple products are more expensive in the mainland.
Hong Kong officials reported the case to mainland Customs and they started a joint probe. The investigation shows intermediates bribed salespeople in Apple's Hong Kong outlets or recruited individuals to frequently travel to buy handsets, the paper said. The five smuggling networks were all busted in a raid in April.
Most of the defendants confessed and appealed for a lenient sentence, saying they thought it was just a part-time job. In China, smugglers may face up to life in prison.
Smugglers of firearms or drugs may face death in China.