Chinese woman faces 11 years in jail for sneaking cosmetics from abroad; netizens cry foul
September 7, 2012Jing Gao7 CommentsBo Xilai, Customs, customs duty, daigou, Deng Fei, duty evasion, duty-free, Gu Kailai, Gucci, iPads, Louis Vuitton, luxury goods, Neil Heywood, Phoenix Weekly, proxy shopping, samsung, South Korea, Taobao, tariff, tax evasion, Zhang Xiaojun
A 30-year-old Chinese woman was sentenced to 11-year-imprisonment and fined half a million Chinese yuan (US$78,100) for evading more than one million yuan in customs duty on foreign beauty products brought from South Korea. Her boyfriend, regarded as her accomplice, received a 5-year jail sentence and was ordered to pay a RMB250,000 fine (US$39,000). An overwhelming majority of netizens are astounded by the heavy punishment handed down by the court and accused the judiciary of a double standard, as some of the country’s corrupt officials and cold-blooded murderers were treated more leniently.
Ms. Li, 30, used to work as a flight attendant at China’s Hainan Airlines. After she left her job, she stayed unemployed for some time while living in Beijing. In the summer of 2008 , she opened an online store named “Air-hostess’ Little Shop” on Taobao.com, the country’s largest online retail platform. Before long, she met Mr. Chu, a senior engineer working at Samsung Electronics Co. in South Korea. Chu told Li that Samsung runs duty-free stores in South Korea and offers employee discounts. He tampered with the account of a former co-worker who had just retired, and gave it to Li so that she could use it to buy much cheaper cosmetics.
Ms. Li, a former flight attendant, is facing 11 years in jail for bringing in cosmetics from South Korea without paying duty.
Between 2010 and August 2011, Li and her boyfriend Mr. Shi tripped frequently to South Korea to purchase duty-free cosmetics and brought them back as personal baggage without declaring to the Chinese customs or pay any duty. They profited from selling these beauty products on her Taobao shop at rates enticingly lower than the retail prices in China.
Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People’s Court ruled that it constitutes smuggling, and estimated the amount of evaded duty at RMB 1.13 million (about US$176,500). The verdict finds Chu, in addition to Li and Shi, also guilty, and he got a 7-year jail term and a 300,000-yuan fine.
During the trial, Ms. Li, while pleading guilty, claimed that the evasion of duty was not intended, that she always followed the crowds when passing through the Chinese customs without noticing the difference between the green passage and the red passage, and that she did not know one has to pay duty for bringing cosmetics into the country. She said that she just wanted to support herself on her own and stop asking for money from her parents.
The whopping amount of fine and the harsh sentences have come in for a flood of criticism on the Internet. On China’s Twitter-like site Sina Weibo, 27,726 respondents, representing 96 percent of netizens who took the survey, voted against the court ruling, saying that they cannot understand why the punishment is so harsh.
“It’s never easy for people to make some money from hard work. There are so many corrupt officials out there, instead of arresting them, you only target ordinary people. It’s really crazy,” one user wrote. @无敌鉄琻鎠 commented, “ Of the one million yuan of duty she evaded, how much really went into her own pocket?” @北京人不知道的北京事儿 asked, “The girl and her boyfriend did not steal, did not rob, did not embezzle funds, and only earned their bread through strenuous work…Where is the conscience of this country?”
With memory of the murder trial of Gu Kailai, wife of the disgraced politician Bo Xilai, still fresh, Chinese net users expressed dissatisfaction with how Ms. Li was treated. “So some people got suspended death penalty for killing people, but ordinary people received harsh sentences for selling goods,” wrote Deng Fei, a reporter with magazine Phoenix Weekly, alluding to the fact that Gu Kailai spared death despite committing a premeditated murder against British businessman Neil Heywood, a crime punishable by death sentence in China. (Read: Sleepless on Weibo–the climax of Bo Xilai drama draws millions)
“The nanny of a certain family gets only nine years for premeditated murder. What does it mean? It means you are doomed if you don’t let the state make money,” wrote another user, referring to Gu Kailai’s aide Zhang Xiaojun who administered the poisoning of the Briton. @遗忘爱潜水 quipped, “11 years for one million. Wow, really ruthless! So killing a Briton was only a matter of suspended death sentence! Because they have different fathers!”
Many netizens also pointed out that Ms. Li is far from the only person that has profited in this fashion. In fact, “daigou,” or “proxy shopping”, as purchasing goods abroad by request of domestic consumers is called in China, is a robust business in China. People in this profession are often Chinese students studying overseas, flight attendants or tour guides who have more opportunities to make outbound travels, although it is not rare that some shopping agents make ad hoc trips. @莫可莫莫 wrote, “Don’t all cosmetic sellers on Taobao purchase merchandise like that?” @Smile凤凤 added, “Just send everybody into jail! Duty-frees have always been sold on Taobao, and we have always been buying from proxy shoppers!”
Proxy shopping arises from the huge price disparities on foreign goods, including handbags, watches, electronics (mostly iPhones and iPads) and beauty products. China levies a high level of tariff on such products, making the incentive for Chinese consumers to sell and buy smuggled goods only bigger. A 50-ml (1.7 oz.) moisturizer from Estee Lauder is priced at 880 yuan (US$138) when the same product can be bought in the U.S. for 84 dollars. High-end handbags from Louis Vuitton and Gucci can be twice as expensive in China.
In one extreme instance, a Weibo user @还屋去 posted a photo (seen below) of Versace sports jacket he saw in an outlet in Ingolstadt, Germany, with two price tags that, viewed together, tell everything, “I was shocked on seeing the tags: it was sent from a department store in China, Shenyang New Century. The price tag used in China was still attached: RMB6,390. The original retail price in a boutique in Europe was only 370 euro (about RMB 3,200). Outlet price: 222 euro. After discount: 89 euro (RMB765), or 90% cheaper than in China…… ”
Just as @FREEVIEW眼界 put it, “It is not right to evade customs duty. But can anyone tell us: which f**king official does so much duty go to? Why can’t they just make shopping less expensive for us ordinary people?”