Regulators have begun a drive to prevent shops at DragonMart selling imitation goods. Experts say the campaign might be aimed at illegal television decoders that bypass pay-per-view encryption.
Bid to plug fake electronic sales
DUBAI // Amid the jumble of prefabricated corridors, there is an Aladdin's cave of weird and wonderful electronic goods from around the world, from pinhole cameras disguised as fountain pens to chunky digital watches that double as mobile phones.
But not all the goods in Dragon Mart are legal. Now officials from the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) say they have begun a drive to make shopkeepers aware of what they are - and are not - allowed to sell.
It is part of a long-term effort to regulate the mall, which has gained a reputation among Dubai consumers as something of a wild west of shopping.
The TRA issued a statement this week saying it had launched a campaign about licensed telecommunications and wireless equipment, with literature in English, Arabic and Chinese to ensure there are no ambiguities.
It did not respond, though, to requests for clarification about what items in particular were illegal. Several phone traders in the mall said they had not heard of the campaign.
Scott Butler, the chief executive of the Dubai-based Arabian Anti-Piracy Alliance, said the campaign might be aimed at illegal television decoders that bypass pay-per-view encryption, an issue the TRA has been keen on in the past.
"The TRA has probably taken the approach of first creating awareness, letting them know what's legal and illegal," he said. "Then they'll come in subsequently with enforcement."
Dragon Mart is owned by Nakheel and operates as a free zone. However, inspectors from the Department of Economic Development (DED), Dubai Customs and Dubai Police regularly visit.
Major Salah bu Se'aba, head of the anti-economic crime department at Dubai Police, confirmed that an on-site police office was being set up at the mall, but declined to give any further details.
Traders at the mall say police have been particularly keen to crack down on laser pointers, tasers, pinhole cameras, "magic box" television decoders, radio scanners and other prohibited items. The majority are only sold under the counter.
One trader used a slideshow on his mobile phone to show a catalogue of different types of hidden cameras that could be ordered, some hidden in light switches or key fobs.
Items such as handheld computers and smartphones were sold at a fraction of their normal retail price. A fake PlayStation Portable, legitimately known as a PSP but in some areas of Dragon Mart labelled as a "PVP", was sold for Dh150. The device normally retails at around Dh700. Fake iPhones, some with and others without an Apple logo, were on sale for Dh350. "It's a Chinese iPhone," said one shopkeeper with a wink.
Police have also participated with officials from other government departments in raids on the fake goods that are ubiquitous throughout the mall.
United Trademarks, a company that acts on behalf of brand owners, regularly inspects the mall and registers complaints with the DED or police.
Its director, Imad Nazmi El Badawi, said the mall was a wholesale market for fake goods traders across the whole country.
"The majority of fakes goods, in any part of the world, come from China," he said. "Many of the traders in Dragon Mart are wholesalers for fake products. All of the small shop owners in Karama or Gold Souq get their stuff from them."
He said he had participated in a raid on a two-bedroom flat in nearby International City that had been converted into warehouse of fake luxury goods. On the whole, though, it is difficult to earn the trust of wholesale dealers.
"They will not trust anyone," he said. "They know their clients and they won't deal with anyone else without checking them out first."
Large-scale traders act like characters out of a spy novel. They arrive in taxis and at random times to scope out their prospective client's shop, to ensure they are genuine and not a sting by authorities.
Deliveries are made by a third-party contractor, and no drop-off time is arranged in advance, to foil any potential police set-up. "They'll do anything to avoid being caught," said Mr El Badawi. "This is the cat-and-mouse game we play with them."