Jail sought for ex-Hermès staff facing counterfeiting charges

Prosecutors in France are seeking prison sentences for a group of people accused of making millions from the sale of counterfeit Hermès bags which includes former employees of the company.

They allege that the 10 defendants sold counterfeit copies of the company’s iconic Birkin bag – named after Anglo-French actress Jane Birkin – for €23,500 to €32,000 apiece to unsuspecting customers, based mainly In Asia, between 2011 and 2014.

There are plenty of low-quality knock-offs of Hermès best-selling product sold worldwide, but these are generally low-quality, easy to spot and sell at a price that leaves little doubt they are fake.

Those on trial in Paris last week were able to make close copies that commanded premium pricing – albeit at a sizeable discount to genuine Birkin bags – because their number included former Hermès workers with the expertise and access to genuine parts, off-cuts and tools used in their construction, said prosecutors.

They also made bags using crocodile skin, a premium material imported from Lombardy in Italy, according to an Fr24 report. The ring included people who were leatherworkers, artisan cutters or assemblers at Hermès.

Investigators came across the scam as part of an operation against a man suspected of fencing stolen Hermès bags. Further sleuthing suggested the accused had sold at least 148 bags over the four-year period, netting an estimated €2m to €4m in illicit profits.

Summing up last Friday, prosecutors said they were seeking sentences of up to four years in prison, €200,000 in fines, and the confiscation of assets seized during investigations. Hermès' lawyers are also asking for €2m in damages. A verdict is due to be delivered on September 24.

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