16 suspects have been arrested in the southeastern Chinese coastal province of Fujian in connection with a major suspected gold smuggling operation, Xinhua has reported, citing local customs authorities.
The suspects are accused of illegally smuggling roughly three tonnes of gold and gold-related products out of the country in an elaborate plot which transpired over the course of three years.
The plot is said to have involved the purchase of pure gold from local merchants, it being soldered into electronics components, and its transport to the Hong Kong Special administrative region, where the gold would be extracted and sold to bullion buyers in the financial hub.
Authorities suspect the smugglers of beginning their operation in February 2017, and of earning about 820 million yuan ($116 million US) from their illegal activities. In addition to the smuggling, the suspects are accused of illegally collecting export tax rebates worth some 120 million yuan ($16.9 million US).
China maintains strict regulations on the import and export of gold and gold products, with the People’s Bank of China maintaining a monopoly on the precious commodity’s export, as well as the right to examine and control the export of products containing a high percentage of gold according to strict limits. Those caught breaking the rules face administrative fines and criminal prosecution.
The illegal export and import of gold is a relatively commonly reported on occurrence throughout Asia, with some incidents leading to comical, if grave predicaments. Late last year, a Chinese national was detained in Nepal after attempting to smuggle about a kilogram of gold packed in his rectum into the country. Earlier, another person was arrested in India after trying to smuggle gold worth over $8,900 from Hong Kong. Gold smuggling is a particularly lucrative enterprise in India, where the precious medal is highly valued for is use in the making of jewellery. Last month, Indian media reported that cases of gold seizures by customs had reached an all-time high amid soaring bullion prices, with Chennai International Airport in Tmil Nadu, India alone scoring some 375 kg of gold over the past year, up from 271 kg seized a year earlier.
Gold prices have been on a rollercoaster ride of sharp ups and downs over the past month amid the global economic turmoil over the coronavirus pandemic, with spot prices settling at $1,701 per ounce in early morning trading Monday.