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Mega people smuggling trial in China

'Snakeheads' and their human smuggling operations have been a major headache for Chinese authorities
'Snakeheads' and their human smuggling operations have been a major headache for Chinese authorities

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- The trial of 42 people charged with being involved in China's largest people smuggling operation in over 50 years has begun.

Chen Wenshu was accused by prosecutors in the Nanjing court of leading a smuggling ring that shipped more than 700 illegal immigrants to Japan between 1998 and 2000, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

In October Chinese police arrested 42 of 100 suspects involved in the operation. Chen reportedly launched the operation in 1998 as the top "snakehead," as people smugglers are known in China.

The breakthrough in the case came in November 2000 when the Japanese coast guard detained a group of 17 stowaways found on a Chinese ship.


Since then Japanese and Chinese authorities cooperated on the case and uncovered a web of snakeheads that stretched across six shipping companies from five Chinese provinces, involving 100 people.

The number of suspects is the largest detected in a single human trafficking crime operation since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949.

All of the illegal immigrants were from China's eastern Fujian province but were smuggled into Japan from ports in Fujian, Guangdong in the south, Zhejiang in central China, Jiangsu in the east and Liaoning in the north.

Human smuggling from China grabbed international headlines in June 2000 when 58 people from Fujian were found dead in a truck arriving at the British port of Dover from the Netherlands.

The two survivors told a court they paid snakehead gangs to help them escape to a better life.

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