Calling All Klutzes: Israeli Customs Caught 50,000 Smuggled Smartphones in 2012

Advanced phones were the most popular item among schlemiel smugglers last year, followed by cigarettes and liquor.

Zohar Blumenkrantz
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Zohar Blumenkrantz

The most popular item for smuggling into Israel through Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion International Airport in 2012, based on failed attempts at least, were Smartphones. No less than 50,000 of the devices were nabbed, worth a cool NIS 150 million.

The favorite models among would-be bootleggers were the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, and the Samsung Galaxy S III.

Last year Customs caught 10,100 travelers trying to pass the "Nothing to declare" green aisle with goods they did need to declare. That was roughly unchanged from 2011, and nicely down from 2010. In that record year no less than 12,250 would-be smugglers were nabbed.

Phones aside, frequent items people frequently try to slip through Customs include cigarettes and liquor, on which import tax is more than 200%.

Not everybody passing through the green aisle gets scanned. Customs sample the passing people for scanning, body and baggage, sometimes based on suspicion. Many of the smartphones were caught on their persons and in their valises, but many were hidden in cargo, says customs director Rafi Gabay.

One incident involved a criminal gang trying to smuggle in 5,000 phones in two shipments.

"We let the goods pass through customs and tracked them in secret," said Gabay. "When all the suspects assembled at an apartment building in Ramat Aviv to divide up the loot, agents from the customs investigations units of Jerusalem and Ben Gurion Airport apprehended the suspects with the phones in hand."

The airport's Arrivals hall is manned 24 hours a day by a staff including plainclothes officers mingling among the passengers in the baggage claim and others outside in the welcoming hall.

"We uncovered a smuggling ring from Russia and the former Soviet republics in the arrivals hall using people posing as tourists," Gabay says. "They actually came to Israel for a two or three day stay for no other purpose than to smuggle in cigarettes."

Sometimes airport workers get mixed up in smuggling too. "We uncovered five Israeli workers at Ben Gurion Airport with entrance passes to restricted areas in the arrivals hall assisting passengers or leaving the hall with suitcases filled with cigarettes," Gabay said.

An iPhone.Credit: Bloomberg
People adore state-of-the-art technology. They just sometimes don't want to pay full price for it. Credit: Reuters

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