Chinese police have busted a people smuggling operation which earned over $29 million from getting 3,200 people out of the country and into North and South America and South Africa.

Authorities have arrested 22 suspects and seized 35,000 forged visas and 270 counterfeit official seals of the U.S. and South African embassies in China.

The smuggling syndicate operated out of Guangdong and Fujian provinces.

A statement issued by Chinese police claims, “If the syndicate had not been taken down then, within two years, it would really have developed into a huge smuggling business specialising in the Americas.”

The syndicate’s kingpin, referred to by police only by his surname of Li, allegedly operated a travel firm in Shenzhen, which was used as a front for the syndicate’s operations. Li supposedly also specializes in forging documents.

Of the 3,200 people who police know were smuggled out of China by Li, 70 percent were men in their 20’s who made made their way into the Americas looking for work.

The police investigation that lead to the bust began in February 2014, when Shenzhen border control officials intercepted a bag which led to the arrest of 12 migrants in possession of counterfeit visas for an undisclosed South American country.

An investigation by Jiangmen public security officials over the next five months led to the arrest of other suspected syndicate members, and now the busting and closing down of the operation.

Following a tip-off about smuggling training sessions at a Shenzhen hotel, police infiltrated the syndicate and shortly after coordinated raids in 25 different locations, including Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Beijing and Jiangmen.

In 2013, after a two year investigation, French and Spanish police broke up a human smuggling ring that was charging each Chinese migrant $52,000 to get them to the U.S. and Europe. That resulted in the arrest of 75 people, 51 of them in Spain.

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