Police in New York have arrested 22 people on suspicion of being involved in a plot to smuggle counterfeit goods worth $450 million into the US from China.
The suspects stand accused of smuggling Chinese-manufactured fake luxury items into the country, such as Louis Vuitton and Tory Burch handbags, Michael Kors wallets, Hermes belts and Chanel perfume, among other products.
Prosecutors argue the Chinese gang members smuggled the items in large shipping containers disguised as legitimate products and brought them into the country via seaports in New York and New Jersey.
In a bid to avoid the attention of law enforcement authorities, the gang members are said to have falsified customs documents and used “burner” cell phone numbers and email accounts to conceal their true identities and cover their tracks.
Officials said the seizure was one of the largest in the history of US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, putting the bust in perspective by noting the agency seized counterfeit goods estimated to be worth around $1.2 billion throughout the whole of 2017.
Those arrested were charged with a number of offences, including conspiracy to traffic counterfeit goods, conspiracy to smuggle counterfeit goods, money laundering, immigration fraud and unlawful procurement of naturalisation.
The suspects are said to have planned to sell the bogus items across the US, where they would have been worth nearly half a billion dollars had they been genuine.
“The defendants allegedly smuggled millions of dollars of counterfeit luxury goods into our country, depriving companies of their valuable and hard-earned intellectual property,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
“The illegal smuggling of counterfeit goods poses a real threat to honest businesses, and I commend our federal prosecutors and partners at HSI and the NYPD for their outstanding work on this important investigation.
“The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable those who seek to exploit our borders by smuggling counterfeit goods for sale on the black market.”
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made the trade in counterfeit and pirated goods a priority issue this year, and is targeting the importation of fake products from locations such as Hong Kong and China that can damage the American economy and threaten the health and safety of US consumers.
Speaking back in March, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said: “The theft of intellectual property and trade in counterfeit and pirated goods causes harm to an innovation-based economy by threatening the competitiveness of businesses and the livelihoods of workers.”
Counterfeit goods rise to account for 3.3% of all global trade, OECD report reveals
Pirated and counterfeit goods now account for 3.3% of all global trade, according to a new study published yesterday by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the EU’s Intellectual Property Office.
Based on worldwide customs seizure data, the report estimates the global value of counterfeit and pirated goods was $509 billion in 2016, the latest year for which records were available.
This was up from $461 billion in 2013, which amounted to 2.5% of all world trade that year.
The notable increase was recorded over a period during which global trading levels decreased, suggesting that the worldwide trade in illicit trade pirated and counterfeit goods is expanding rapidly.
According to the study, the problem is particularly acute in the European Union, where counterfeit and pirated goods were found to account for 7% of the 28-nation bloc’s trade in 2016.
Over the course of 2016, the data shows that the most frequently seized pirated and counterfeit products across the globe in dollar value were bogus footwear, clothing, leather goods and IT equipment, flowed by watches, medical products and fragrances.
Most of the fake goods seized across the globe throughout 2016 are said to have originated from mainland China and Hong Kong, with countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Singapore, Thailand and India remaining major sources of counterfeit products.
US firms were most affected by the trade in pirated and counterfeit items in 2016, with American products accounting for 24% of global seizures.
The US was followed by France (17%), Italy (15%), Switzerland (11%) and Germany (9%).
The report also revealed that an increasing number of companies in emerging economies such as Brazil and China are becoming targets of counterfeiters.
Authors of the report said the rise in circulation of counterfeit and pirated goods comes at a time when digital trading platforms are making it increasingly easy for the criminal networks that produce fake goods to sell to a global customer base.
The sending of small parcels through the mail system remained the most popular way for pirated and counterfeit goods to be distributed in 2016, accounting for 69% of all seized fake goods.
Launching the report yesterday, OECD Public Governance Director Marcos Bonturi said: “Counterfeit trade takes away revenues from firms and governments and feed other criminal activities. It can also jeopardise consumers’ health and safety.
“Counterfeiters thrive where there is poor governance. It is vital that we do more to protect intellectual property and address corruption.”
EU prepares for WannaCry-style hacking attempts ahead of European Parliament elections in May
Europol has announced that law enforcement agencies across EU member states are preparing to counter cross-border hacking attempts ahead of the European Parliament elections at the end of May.
Bracing for cyber attacks on democratic institutions, think tanks and non-profit organisations ahead of the vote, the European Council has formally adopted an EU Law Enforcement Emergency Response Protocol, which Europol said would serve as a tool to support law enforcement authorities across the union by providing an immediate response to major cross-border hacking attempts.
The protocol, which gives Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) a central role in responding to these types of threats, is intended to offer member states with a rapid assessment of hacking attempts, as well as the ability to share critical information in a secure and timely manner.
Under the terms of the protocol, EC3 will help member state law enforcement agencies coordinate the international aspects of any investigation into cross-border hacking attempts.
The adoption of the protocol comes after major cyber attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya that targeted national infrastructure and private businesses across Europe and elsewhere in 2017 demonstrated that member states were insufficiently prepared for the evolving nature of hackers’ methods.
Noting that the prospect of a major cyber attack having repercussions in the physical world is no longer the stuff of science fiction, Europol said the protocol complements existing EU crisis management mechanisms, and will help law enforcement agencies across tackle cyber security events of a malicious and suspected criminal nature.
Commenting on the adoption of the protocol, Wil van Gemert, Deputy Executive Director of Operations at Europol, said in a statement: “It is of critical importance that we increase cyber preparedness in order to protect the EU and its citizens from large scale cyber-attacks.
“Law enforcement plays a vital role in the emergency response to reduce the number of victims affected and to preserve the necessary evidence to bring to justice the ones who are responsible for the attack.”
The protocol was launched after the UK’s National Audit Office (NAO) last week criticised the British government’s efforts to prepare for major cyber attacks from hacking groups or hostile nation states such as Russia.
The NAO said Britain remains vulnerable to hacking attempts that could affect crucial infrastructure, domestic networks, and businesses.
NAO chief Amyas Morse commented: “The government has demonstrated its commitment to improving cyber security.
“However, it is unclear whether its approach will represent value for money in the short term and how it will prioritise and fund this activity after 2021.”
British government releases £100 million to help police battle UK’s spiralling knife crime epidemic
The UK government yesterday announced £100 million (S132.7 million) in new funding to help police in England and Wales fight the country’s worsening knife crime crisis.
Since the beginning of the year, 39 people have been stabbed to death across the UK, including 17-year-old Jodie Chesney, who was knifed in the back in east London earlier this month.
Last year, the criminal justice system in England and Wales dealt with 21,484 knife and offensive weapon cases, according to the latest data from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), with homicides reaching 135 in London alone.
Announcing the new money during his spring statement to UK Parliament yesterday, Chancellor Philip Hammond said the extra money would be used to bolster law enforcement agencies in the worst-affected regions across England and Wales, and will pay for a “surge” in street policing in problem areas.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid, who had pressed hard for extra funding to tackle the issue, commented: “I’ve listened to [police] concerns and this £100 million – including £80 million new funding from the Treasury – will allow them to swiftly crack down on knife crime on the areas of the country where it is most rife.
“This is on top of the £970 million of additional money that policing is already due to receive from April from the Government and Council Tax.”
In a report published earlier this week, England’s education regulator Ofsted revealed that organised criminal gangs are encouraging children to take knives into classes with “the sole purpose” of getting them excluded.
British county lines drugs gangs are known to recruit vulnerable children at risk of being expelled from school in the knowledge their victims will be easier to manipulate once they no longer have access to trusted adults such as teachers.
Debate has raged in the UK as to the cause of the escalation of the country’s violent crime epidemic, with some blaming police cuts and austerity introduced under the current Conservative government, and others pointing to a fall in police stop and searches, and cultural issues present in certain communities.
At the beginning of this week, police forces across England and Wales launched a seven-day crackdown on knife crime, which has seen officers set up knife surrender bins, increase stop and search activities, and conduct a number of weapons sweeps.
Launching the campaign in Suffolk, Superintendent Kerry Cutler said: “Young people face all sorts of pressures and therefore family, friends and role models are an important influence in their lives.
“Having a conversation with them about the dangers of carrying a knife may be difficult but talking and listening is critical to finding a solution to the growing problem we have seen nationally around knife crime.”
- Counterfeit goods rise to account for 3.3% of all global trade, OECD report reveals
- EU prepares for WannaCry-style hacking attempts ahead of European Parliament elections in May
- British government releases £100 million to help police battle UK’s spiralling knife crime epidemic
- New taskforce targeting counterfeit and smuggled goods in Detroit seizes contraband worth $1 million
- Methamphetamine production hits record high across East and Southeast Asian countries, UNODC cautions
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