x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 14 December 2017

Counterfeit goods worth hundreds of millions seized by Dubai Police

From fake iPhones and designer handbags to dangerous car parts, trade has a damaging affect on genuine businesses

Counterfeit handbags designed by Louis Vuitton and Chanel sit on shelves of a secret room of a store at Karama market in Dubai. Andrew Henderson / The National
Counterfeit handbags designed by Louis Vuitton and Chanel sit on shelves of a secret room of a store at Karama market in Dubai. Andrew Henderson / The National

More than Dh280 million worth of fake goods were taken off the streets of Dubai this year as the authorities sought to tackle a global trade that damages legitimate businesses and fuels organised crime and terrorism.

From knock-off luxury bags from Louis Vuitton and Burberry to cheap unauthorised car parts that could cause accidents, sellers were targeted in a large number of raids and seizures.

Weight loss drugs and anti-aging treatments were also commonly faked.

Once largely sold in the bustling streets of Karama, many are now promoted via social media accounts and WhatsApp and delivered to tourists' and residents' hotels and homes.

The value of the seizures was revealed at the Regional Intellectual Property Crime Conference on Tuesday, which aims to strengthen cooperation among international law enforcement.

A total of 212 trademark infringement cases and 11 copyright cases were reported in Dubai in 2017, compared to 230 trademark infringement cases and 16 copyright the previous year.

“We work closely with government departments and international authorities to track down and arrest those involved in smuggling counterfeit products," said Mohammed Lootah, chief executive of commercial compliance and consumer protection at Dubai Economic Department (DED), which overseas the sale of goods in the emirate.

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In the first half of this year, more than 6,800 Instagram accounts were shut down for selling counterfeit goods online, up from 3,600 during the same period in 2016 , according to DED.

“The department developed a unit to protect intellectual property online and cooperated with local and international to combat selling fake products online,” said Mr Lootah.

The latest iPhones - or rather cheap imitations that look like genuine models - were also seized.

When Dubai Police raided a villa in the city earlier this year, they found 214 iPhone 7s and 673 iPhone 6s Plus models, along with more than 20,000 sets of fake headphones.

One of the largest busts to date was in 2015 when four million bottles of perfume worth Dh100 million were seized from two sites.

The estimated value of seized goods that year was Dh1 billion, dropping to Dh549 million in 2016.

"The number of confiscated fake products has decreased in 2017, due to our cooperation with international manufacturers and wholesalers,” said Major General Abdul Quddus Obaidli, whose Dubai Police unit is tasked with tracking down such items.

“Intellectual property is integral to a competitive business environment and cooperation with Interpol and others will help to protect this."

Malek Hannouf, from the Gulf Brand Owners' Protection Group described another major bust in Ajman.

“Warehouses behind the China mall in Ajman contained dozens of counterfeit Louis Vuitton bags. We contacted Ajman Police and were able to seize 30,000 counterfeit products. Such case sheds light on the importance of monitoring free markets operator here.”

Mr Hannouf said the penalty for selling counterfeit goods, between Dh5,000 and Dh30,000, is not significant enough to put sellers off.

“The fine will not stop counterfeiters for committing the crime again, Dh30,000 is just a small part of the profit they make,” said Mr Hannouf.

“In another case, the group became aware of goods being shipped from an industrial area outside Dubai to Saudi Arabia.

"They were shipping the goods from the Al Aweer area. We reported the incident to Dubai Police and in no time they were able to bust the confiscated products."

As The National reported earlier this year, Maj Gen Obaidli said it could be time to look at criminalising the purchase of fake goods, although there are no active plans to do so at present.

Only sellers are currently targeted.

Most countries target the counterfeiters rather than buyers, but in France – home to many of the world’s luxury goods designers – tourists and residents can be fined up to €300,000 (Dh1.18 million).

Italy has also targeted and fined buyers during summer campaigns.