Twenty-one Indians were among 33 foreigners arrested in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen on Friday on diamond-smuggling charges.

Local authorities said the Shenzhen-based traders were involved in a smuggling racket, reportedly bringing in diamonds from Hong Kong for sale the open market. The Indian traders were alleged to have been hired by the smuggling ring as “carriers”, according to officials.

Indian Embassy officials will meet those arrested on Wednesday, Ambassador to China S. Jaishankar told The Hindu. He said Chinese authorities had assured the Embassy that those arrested would be granted consular access. Officers from the Indian Embassy in Beijing and the Consulate in Guangzhou have been dispatched to Shenzhen.

Two-month probe

Customs officials in Shenzhen said they conducted a raid on January 8 following a two-month investigation into a local smuggling racket, also acting on a tip-off from another Indian trader. One Indian man was arrested in a hotel after a smuggler from Hong Kong, named Weng, was apprehended at a local checkpoint, and reportedly found with three bags of diamonds in his pockets. The Indian trader had allegedly been waiting to receive Mr. Weng, the Shenzhen Daily reported.

Another Indian, from Surat, was also arrested for being in contact with Mr. Weng. Four others were picked up in a raid on a local diamond company, following a tip-off from an Indian trader.

Following Friday’s raid, Indian officials in Beijing approached the Chinese government on Monday for information on the arrests. Officials said they were furnished with the relevant details the following day.

Several local jewellery companies employed Indian suppliers to source their diamonds from Hong Kong and elsewhere, a diamond trader named Jiang told the Shenzhen Daily. Part of the reason, she said, was their costs were lower, and foreign traders were exempt from some transaction taxes.

Shenzhen, in China’s southern Guangdong province, is the country’s second busiest port after Shanghai. Situated north of Hong Kong, the port was the site of China’s first Special Economic Zone, and has since been transformed into a sprawling industrial city.

A number of Indian diamond companies have set up processing units in China, which has one of the world’s fastest-growing diamond markets.

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