Ugg boots were among the copied brands

Ugg boots were among the copied brands

UK and US authorities have unveiled what is believed to be one of the biggest seizures of counterfeit apparel in British history.

Following a long-term trans-atlantic investigation into a sophisticated international organised crime group, the City of London Police force yesterday arrested six men in the Greater London area. On the same day US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE Baltimore) made nine arrests.

More than 60 officers from the force's Economic Crime Directorate (ECD) seized approximately 50,000 items of counterfeit clothing, footwear, handbags and hair straighteners during searches at more than 30 premises in the Greater London area.

The multi-million pound haul included brands such as Nike, Uggs, Gucci, Adidas, Versace, Ralph Lauren and GHD. During the searches a total of GBP350,000 in cash was also discovered.

Nine people arrested in the US have been indicted by a federal grand jury.

In the indictment, the defendants are alleged to have illegally smuggled a total of 120,000 pairs of counterfeit Nike shoes, 500,000 counterfeit Coach handbags, 10,000 pairs of counterfeit Coach and Gucci shoes and 500 counterfeit Cartier wrist watches into the US.

The arrests are the culmination of a money laundering investigation targeting the trafficking and importation of counterfeit goods into the UK and US. The work is a collaboration between the ECD, the UK Border Agency and the US Immigration & Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE).

Initial assessments suggest that a significant criminal network has been disrupted and that officers have made one of the largest seizures of counterfeit goods in the UK. The six people have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud.

City of London Police Commissioner, Mike Bowron said: "We have listened to the concerns of the business community which has resulted in a determined international effort to combat an aspect of financial crime which has far- reaching implications for the UK, the rest of Europe and the US.

"By working in close collaboration with the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency and the UK Border Agency we have made a significant breakthrough in this joint investigation."

ICE has been monitoring the movement of shipping containers being used to smuggle counterfeit goods from China and Malaysia into both the US and UK.

ICE Assistant secretary John Morton added: "The smuggling and trafficking of counterfeit goods is a global problem. ICE regularly works shoulder-to-shoulder with our law enforcement partners around the world such as the City of London Police to identify, infiltrate and disrupt transnational criminal organisations that rob legitimate industries of business.

"Only through our combined efforts will we be able to successfully confront this international challenge. "

In 2007, counterfeit crime is estimated to have cost legitimate UK business GBP3.5bn (US$5.3bn).

The UK Border Agency has more than 8,000 frontline officers using a variety of measures - including x-rays and detection dogs - to scan and examine baggage, vehicles, freight and individuals.

For the financial year ending March 2009, more than 3m items suspected of infringing intellectual property rights were detected at the border.

UK Border Agency's Border Force head Brodie Clark said: "The UK Border Agency is determined to stop counterfeit goods from reaching our shores. That's why we have a unified force at the border which last year stopped counterfeit goods worth GBP57m hitting the UK's streets.

"Coordinated multi-agency operations like this make it abundantly clear just how seriously the UK takes the smuggling of fake goods, a crime which deprives the public purse of millions of pounds of valuable revenue every year and rips off the public.

"People who make the mistake of buying cheap copies might think they are getting a bargain, but they don't realise these goods are often dangerous and the proceeds are often used to fuel serious organised crime."

Intellectual property minister David Lammy added counterfeiting and piracy were "not a victimless crime" and if money went to legitimate business instead, jobs would be created.