Hong Kong authorities halt alleged smuggler shifting 596 'high-end' CPUs to China

Images suggest they could be recent Intel Xeons – perhaps even the sort of kit subject to sanctions

Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department on Monday revealed it intercepted 596 CPUs that an alleged smuggler was trying to ship into China.

The agency announced that on June 11 its staff spotted a suspect vehicle attempting to pass through the Shenzhen Bay Control Point – one of the checkpoints between Hong Kong and mainland China.

Officers felt the vehicle worthy of X-ray inspection – a hunch that paid off after it was found to contain CPUs hidden in false compartments.

The agency valued the CPUs at HKD$12 million – around $1.5 million, or about $2,500 apiece.

CPUs stashed in a car found by Hong Kong Authorities

CPUs stashed in a car found by Hong Kong Authorities - Click to enlarge

Customs investigator Ho Ting-chun told The South China Morning Post the chips were high-end devices capable of powering cloud services and AI workloads.

The Register used a photo of the CPUs posted by the agency and applied reverse image search to identify the part: we're confident it's a recent Intel Xeon, but can't say with any certainty which model.

Between the $2,500-per-CPU valuation and authorities' assessment that the chips are high-end product, the possibility this haul could comprise kit not permitted to enter China under current US sanctions cannot be dismissed. If that is indeed the case, it's another example of "evasion routes" China uses to get its hands on gear.

Hong Kong authorities spot quite a lot of contraband tech crossing the border, but the government news feeds we keep an eye on mostly mention cigarettes and counterfeit fashion items – and of course the memorable vanload of lobsters and GPUs we spotted in May 2023.

In the same year – and next door to Hong Kong in the former Portuguese colony of Macau – authorities apprehended a chap who strapped several 13th-gen Intel Core i5s to his body and tried to get into China. Also in Macau, this time in 2021, a smuggler used cling film to wrap himself in 256 Intel Core i7-10700 and Core i9-10900K processors.

While such incidents have an amusing side, a major reason for US bans on tech exports is preventing China’s military from using advanced processors to do things like simulate nuclear weapons tests. China's government is also credibly accused of conducting numerous offensive cyber-ops that could be made more efficient – and thus damaging – with more powerful silicon.

Hong Kong's Customs and Excise Department hasn't offered any info about the possible buyers for this batch of kit, nor its provenance. It has, however, celebrated the HKD$3 million in taxes the alleged perp failed to avoid. ®

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