Top 10 Most Smuggled Things in the World

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Have you ever smuggled a phone in your socks out of a classroom to avoid getting caught by the teachers; food into a movie theatre so that you do not have to pay for the super expensive food there? What other innocent things can you think of smuggling in and out of somewhere? Smuggling essentially means transferring goods or people illegally from somewhere, namely from buildings, prisons and across international borders. Everything can be smuggled nowadays, starting from a packet of snacks to actual human beings. Smuggling of goods started in the middle ages since goods started getting taxed.  And this golden tradition has flourished and branched out since the good old days of smuggling wool, wine and hide.

10. Food


No, not the food you smuggle into movie halls and amusement parks you petty tax evaders. Expensive food items are often smuggled with as much intensity as the next batch of drugs you want to snort. In North Korea there is a black market where they sell Choco Pies for three or four times their original price, as in those round chocolate snacks filled with marshmallows in the centre that come in red plastic wrappers. Are you wondering where they get them from? In the demilitarised Kaesong town near the border factories were set up (which closed recently) and they employed North Koreans as factory workers, they were not allowed to get cash bonuses so they got paid in food items; Choco Pies were one of the items and instead of eating them they would just sell them in black. Then there is the extremely rare Italian White Truffle, sold for about $3600 per pound which has given rise to the so called Truffle Mafia; they can steal from restaurants and farmers and will not even stop at killing to obtain this extremely rare fungus. A 12 piece bucket of KFC can be smuggled into Gaza City for the price of 27$.

9. DVDs


Imagine you lived in a place where you were prohibited to watch particular or all films from a country. Say if you are watching “Lost” in Iran you will see funny cartoonish tees on all the female characters who wore proper beachwear on the beach they were stranded on. A few years back all Bollywood films were banned in Pakistan; even now they randomly ban them if they do not like the content of the films. Say for example, the super hit film about how to stalk the girl you think you love “Raanjhanaa” has been banned there due to its sensitive religious complexities (go figure). This banning of films of course has never stopped them from getting hold of smuggled DVDs. The same goes for “Chandi Chowk to China” which got banned in Nepal; all the offensive scenes got deleted but that could not be done for the smuggled DVDs of the film. South Korean television show DVDs get smuggled into North Korea due to the high demand.

8. Cigarettes


Smugglers will often buy cigarettes from places with really low taxes and then smuggle those in and resell those in places with high taxes. That is just good business you may be thinking. China is the biggest supplier of counterfeit cigarettes. This may make you chuckle thinking of how everything is “made in China”; well it is not that far behind when it comes to counterfeit things. This results in cheaper prices, no tax incomes for the government and poor and vulnerable people being the targets. The quality of such counterfeit cigarettes is dodgy at best and giving competition to China in this department is Paraguay and Eastern Europe. Cigarettes are the most smuggled in products in Canada. If you thought you knew what you are smoking and still did not care then read this – further test details have revealed the presence of metals such as cadmium, pesticides, arsenic, rat poison, and human faeces in these cigarettes. Smoke that.

7. Mobiles


As you type away on your mobile phones even as you read this think of a life in prison, more so think of a life without a mobile phone and let the horror strike your heart slowly. Mobile phones often get stolen and smuggled everywhere. But smuggling it in prison seems to generate the possibility of a whole bunch of butt related humour, if you are into that kind of thing. A Mexican gang got caught and were sent off to prison and of course they all had their cell phones with them wrapped neatly inside them. In a hilarious twist of events those got caught because one of the gang member’s mother complained to the prison guard of crappy reception inside the prison.  In June 2013 a cat, yes you read that right, a cat was caught trying to smuggle in mobile phones and chargers in a Russian prison. Justice has been served though, the cat was detained. There are about 50,000 people living near the border, who cross the border between North Korea and China to trade and almost all of them have mobile phones, made in China of course and smuggled in.

6. Money


People are not legally allowed to carry more than a certain sum of money in or out of a country. And so people will obviously do it. Carrying more than $10,000 in undeclared cash in or out of USA is a punishable offense. While crossing the border a woman and her sixteen year old daughter were caught on the American side of the Windsor-Detroit tunnel in June 2013. They had about $59,000 sewn in pouches inside the linings of their bras. Customs seized money rolled into aluminium foils inside pastries in Berlin in March 2012. Even religious men and men of law fall prey to the delicious lure of money; few would not when they have the chance to smuggle out millions of Euros. Giovanni Mari Zito, an Italian intelligence officer with diplomatic credentials and Father Nunzio Scarano hired a plane and were planning on smuggling €20millions in cash out of Switzerland. There was a third conspirator, and in classic Hollywood heist movie climax style they started bickering. Only unlike all those movies where the smooth criminal gets away, these three idiots did not. North Korea is the biggest source of counterfeit US currency.

5. Minerals

Congolese miners dig at a gold mine in Montgbawalu

Everyone must have seen “Blood Diamond” and have a certain bit of idea of the diamond smuggling operation. Conflict minerals, the ones mined in zones of armed conflict under various human rights violations is smuggled out of the country and even the governments sometimes stand to profit from this. The Second Congo War is using money from its smuggled minerals to keep it going. Smuggling of minerals like chromite, coal, gold and iron and precious stones like lapis lazuli and emeralds in Afghanistan constitutes 20-25% of its foreign trade. People get good money by selling black stones covered in coltan ore in Venezuela to brokers. This coltan ore is used in micro chips in smartphones, used as a powder in solar panels it increases efficiency. But mining coltan ore in Venezuela, yes you guessed it, is illegal. Even women and children take part in this mining process. The drug smugglers mix this with other legitimate minerals and sell it to high tech manufacturers. These people who mine the conflict minerals are poor and have no safety or job security; they simply do it for the good money they get.

4. Exotic Animals


Even those who are not fond of animals would cringe at some of the stories that we get to hear about animal smuggling. Most of these animals die in transit. In 2003 a man was arrested in Australia for smuggling snakes. He had eight snakes, four of them were king cobras. What I am about to tell you may seem enormously stupid thing to do even for stupid people, – he had those snakes strapped onto his legs underneath his pants. The snakes ended up dying. There are several other instances of people getting caught trying to smuggle birds strapped to their legs, fishes in pouches made in aprons inside a long skirt, baby leopards, pythons, tiger cubs, frogs, monkeys in suit cases or just shipping the animals (like lizards, butterflies) in hollowed out books and cases. Scientists believe that the SARS virus spread due to animal trafficking when the humans came in contact with the Chinese civets. These exotic animals are most of the times rare and this illegal trade is affecting the biodiversity of various ecosystems. 480 South African rhinos have been killed in 2013 to get their horns, a highly valued item in the black market. These horns are powdered and sold in Asia where it is used in traditional medicines. The net market value of animal smuggling is approximately $20billion. The profits are high (a komodo dragon can sell for more than $30,000 in black) but the punishments are not as harsh as it is for drug dealers and this is a reason why many have shifted to smuggling animals from drugs.

3. Drugs


Smuggling of drugs is a well known fact. Mules, as in people who carry the drugs in their intestinal tracts, not actual mules, can carry up to five pounds of drugs like cocaine, heroin, ecstasy or methamphetamine in latex pouches covered in industrial sealants and aluminium foil inside their bodies. Long term packers, involved in international trade will swallow the products, in short term smuggling they put it up their, you know, anuses.  These long term packers or mules are usually in discomfort; they refuse to eat on the plane and are paranoid. Flight attendants report such people to be checked at the airport on landing. These packets do not harm the packers per se, but imagine walking around with a bunch of wax cylinders in your gut, not so comfortable. But if it is kept inside the body for several days then it can cause damage, there runs the risk of stretching out the muscles permanently, extreme discomfort and the risk or perforating something inside. Last year Afghanistan secured the world number one position as the producer and supplier of illegal opium and hashish, Canada is the leading supplier of ecstasy to North America. In 2005 Tennessee introduced the “crack tax”, requiring drug dealers to pay taxes anonymously for their illegal drug trade.

2. Arms and Weapons

Arms and Weapons

Arms and weapons smuggling is the fodder for all kinds of terrorism. The global market is valued at $60billion approximately per year. This month only missile components (defunct Soviet SA-2 ones) have been found under a sugar cargo in a ship bound from Cuba to North Korea through the Panama Canal. The raid was pretty dramatic in a Hollywood sense apparently. Meanwhile, N Korea just wants their bloody ship back. The Canadian Border Services Agency discovered about 65,000 illegal firearms being smuggled in between 2006 – 2012. The money smuggled from arms, drugs and human trafficking in Colombia is estimated at $17billion by financial experts. According to the Allahabad Police in India, locally made and smuggled illegal guns known as “kattas” are used for about 85% of the crimes. In the USA about 50% of the guns are straw purchases, as in the criminals who are barred from getting arms get a friend or family member to get it for them. So, next Christmas you know what you can get if you live in the US and got banned from buying a gun after you wagged it in front of a cop.

1. Humans


Every year thousands of people make the decision to leave their country behind and go to more prosperous countries in order to find a better life. These people wanting to cross over to other countries get helped by smugglers who get paid. This money goes into financing various kinds of organised crimes. Human smuggling of immigrants is different from human trafficking where the victims are taken by force against their will or under false pretext and then sold into prostitution and the human traffickers make their money from this exploitation of the unwilling victims. Thousands of people die while being smuggled in; they suffocate in too small containers, get lost in deserts or die at sea. A few years back, in 2001 a 135lb woman was found in the dashboard of a car near the US-Mexico border. If only every country had open borders where people could just walk in and out of a country just by walking across pavements, just like it is so for people living in Baarle-Nassau, where one can stand on the pavement beside a cafe with one foot in Netherlands and the other in Belgium.


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