Police in the Guangdong Province in China have broken up a human smuggling operation in what has been described by local media as the biggest crackdown of its kind in the country over a decade. A total of 22 suspects have been arrested and 35,000 forged visas and 270 counterfeit official seals confiscated.

As part of the crackdown, police have also frozen bank accounts with a total of 11m yuan (£1.14m, €1.62m, $1.72m). The people smuggling operation is believed to have racked in 220m yuan (£22.8m, €32.4m,$34.4m) from helping to get 3,200 people out of the country.

The authorities believe that the syndicate, based in Guangdong and Fujian provinces, had so far smuggled 3,200 people from China to unidentified countries in both North and South America. The syndicate's leader, who was only identified by his surname Li by the Guangzhou Daily, was reported to have run a travel company in Shenzhen which was used as a front for the human smuggling operations.

It is not known for how long the syndicate has been in operation but it is believed that 70% of those smuggled out of the country were young men in their 20s looking for work. The arrests were believed to have come after the Shenzhen border control officials intercepted a bag in February last year, which led to the detention of one suspected syndicate member and 12 people holding counterfeit visas for an unidentified South American country.