20 March 2010

Police Seize Fake Designer Clothing Worth £1M in North London Raids

London Times Online

A gang that made tens of millions of pounds selling fake designer clothing has been smashed in an international police operation.

Detectives have seized thousands of items including counterfeit Versace, Armani, Gucci, Nike and adidas products, thought to have a street value of £1 million, in co-ordinated raids on lock-ups across North London. They have also recovered almost £500,000 in cash from safety deposit boxes. The City of London Police believe the raids are one of the biggest seizures of counterfeit goods in Britain.

The men are said to have taken delivery at least once a week for the past 18 months of huge containers full of the goods, also including electrical products that had been made in Malaysia and China. These would be sold to independent shops, at markets and online.

Detectives estimate that each container was worth £700,000 to the gang, who set themselves up as a business with a managing director, financial director and someone in charge of their property portfolio. Rather than flaunt their wealth, they are thought to have sent most of the money abroad while living relatively modestly lifestyles in London.

Detective Superintendent Bob Wishart, from City of London’s fraud squad, said that the gang was extremely professional. “It is one of the best run criminal organisations we have come up against.”

The top tier of the criminal enterprise was based in the Far East and they handed out the franchise for their goods to the gang in Britain and another in Baltimore, Maryland.

On Thursday a series of co-ordinated raids took place in both countries. Officers from the City of London Police arrested six men and raided 30 residential and business premises. The US authorities arrested nine people and recovered goods including 120,000 pairs of counterfeit Nike shoes, 500,000 counterfeit Coach handbags and 500 counterfeit Cartier watches.

David Lammy, Minister for Intellectual Property, said: “This is a major investigation that highlights the significant threat to the British economy from counterfeit goods. This operation shows major efforts are being made to tackle this problem and I look forward to seeing more successful operations like this one.” It is estimated that the cost to the clothing and footwear industry in Britain from counterfeiting is £3.5 billion.

Mr Wishart said that organised crime groups had been able to operate within the area of counterfeit goods without any fear of a constructive operation against them for too long.

He told The Times: “The guys we are dealing with here are very good. Our surveillance teams found seven men who we say are the main organisers but beneath them they had a whole army of workers.” Officers will now be going after the gang’s assets and money “to hit them hard in the pocket”.

Detective Chief Superintendent Steve Head, of the Economic Crime Unit at City of London, said: “People buying the odd pair of designer trainers or sunglasses for a fraction of the cost do not realise the underlying misery. This fraud generates billions for gangs and means people are working in sweatshops.”

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