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Airline crews blamed for 40% of smuggling

By Zhao Wen  (Shanghai Daily)

08:06, September 13, 2012

AIRLINE crews accounted for about 40 percent of the suspects who smuggled items into the city on flights so far this year, Shanghai Customs announced yesterday

Customs detected 185 cases of smuggling in the first eight months of this year. Passengers accounted for the majority, at 108 cases, and airline crew misconduct was involved in the rest, 77 cases.

In one case, a captain, whose name, age, nationality and gender were not given, was caught giving a paper bag containing 10 luxury watches and a designer bag to a member of the ground crew at Shanghai Pudong International Airport on August 28.

Customs said the captain intended to let the ground crew take the bag and watches out of Customs' supervision area but was spotted by an inspector on the apron. The captain is now under investigation and the smuggled goods, with brands including Titoni, Carl F. Bucherer, Blancpain, IWC and Celine were seized.

Crew members moonlighting as smugglers, not an uncommon practice in the industry, garnered the media spotlight last week when a Beijing court sentenced a former flight attendant who profiteered as an overseas shopping agent to 11 years in prison for smuggling.

The convict, surnamed Li, a former flight attendant of Hainan Airlines, was also fined 500,000 yuan (US$79,015) for evading tariffs of more than 1.13 million yuan. The court said Li smuggled cosmetic products bought from South Korean duty-free stores into China and sold them on her own online store at taobao.com between 2010 and August of last year.

The case has sparked a heated discussion online as overseas purchasing is popular among Chinese online buyers and is still flooding some websites including taobao.com, China's biggest e-commerce platform.

According to an announcement of China's General Administration of Customs, entering passengers should declare their self-use products bought in foreign countries if the total value exceeds 5,000 yuan. Customs would levy a tax on the excess and tax a whole article if it is inseparable.

The rule is clear, but many passengers don't follow it and take a chance to evade tariffs.

A Chinese passenger was detained for carrying a total of 247 high-end and luxury products from Paris at the Pudong International Airport on July 24.

Custom inspectors discovered designer bags, belts, wallets, shoes, clothes, jewelry and perfumes in the passenger's luggage. Brands included Hermes, Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Bubbery, Gucci and Francesco Rogani. The case is under investigation.

A tour guide was caught smuggling 80 sets of cosmetics made by Lancome and Estee Lauder from Japan on August 22.

Customs said some tour guides even asked tourists to help carry the goods to lower the risk of being caught. Passengers are warned not to carry goods for others as they would also be punished.

Passengers should have no worry if the value of the foreign goods they buy is within 5,000 yuan, of a reasonable quantity and for use by themselves. According to the Chinese law, only those who smuggle goods for profit would face criminal charges and be punished.

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