A policeman checks some of the cigarettes smuggled through Fujian and Guangdong provinces between 2003 and 2006. File Photo
The head of a gang that smuggled 2 billion yuan ($292 million) worth of cigarettes has been sentenced to death, while two other principals have been sentenced to life in prison, this city's customs bureau said on Thursday.
Sixteen other gang members were jailed for between three and 15 years by the Shenzhen intermediate people's court.
Shenzhen customs, which led the investigation into the case, said at a media briefing that the criminals were arrested in January 2006 following raids in Shenzhen, Xiamen, Shantou and Suzhou.
Investigators found the gang had smuggled more than 200,000 cases of cigarettes with an estimated value of 2.08 billion yuan via the sea areas of Fujian and Guangdong provinces between 2003 and 2006, evading taxes of 1.28 billion yuan.
The mastermind Lu Chengpin and four of his brothers each contributed 4 million yuan and his fellow villagers in Shishi of Fujian province also joined in the "shareholding corporation", raising 35 million yuan.
Lin Jinzhou and Cai Xiangmeng, the two given life sentences, contributed 14 million yuan and 21 million yuan, respectively.
The money was used to buy ships and cars, and build underground storage cellars.
Lu made a net profit of 15 million yuan in 2004, prosecutors said.
The gang also used the profits to buy property in Xiamen, Fujian province and Anshan, Liaoning province, and a convenience store in Dongguan, Guangdong province.
Investigators also found that Lu's gang had close connections with two smugglers in Huiyang of Guangdong province, who worked together to smuggle cigarettes through Huiyang.
Lu had earlier worked for Cai Wanhe, another notorious cigarette smuggler, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2002 for smuggling about 24 million yuan worth of cigarettes.
The gang members were arrested in January 2006 and brought to court in January of last year.
In the first hearing in the Shenzhen court, the gang hired 31 lawyers, but procurators said in a press release in April that due to their good preparation and strong witnesses, the lawyers gave up at the second round of debates.
(China Daily August 30, 2008)