$670,000 of fake cosmetics seized in Hong Kong gang bust

Twelve people have been arrested in Hong Kong after a two-day operation resulted in the seizure of about 5,200 counterfeit cosmetic and skin care products.

Led by Hong Kong customs on 20 and 21 December, the raid is believed to have smashed a criminal syndicate supplying and distributing suspected fake Korean toiletries, including cleanser, powder, base powder, facial masks and serum, a statement said.

Nine retail shops selling the bogus products in Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei were raided, along with a storage facility located in Tsing Yi, which acted as the headquarters for the criminal syndicate supplying and distributing the fake cosmetics.

About 500 knock-off products worth HK $70,000 were seized from the retail outlets, while around 4,700 suspect products were seized from the storage facility.

The total estimated market value of all the seized products was about HK $670,000 ($85,726).

Twelve people – 11 men and one woman – aged between 25 and 58, were arrested as part of the operation.

Ten of those arrested – nine men and one woman – were a result of the raid on the retail shops and comprised two proprietors and eight salespersons, while the 31-year-old head of the criminal syndicate was arrested at the storage facility. A 58-year-old man who was allegedly the syndicate’s delivery driver was arrested at his home. 

According to the South China Morning Post, Superintendent Guy Fong, head of Hong Kong Customs’ intellectual property investigation group, said it was the biggest seizure of counterfeit cosmetic and skincare products in the past two years.

The raid followed an investigation stemming from complaints from trademark owners about a month ago, alleging that suspected counterfeit cosmetic and skin care products were being sold in retail shops. Hong Kong customs believed the criminal gang had been operating for more than a month.

The South China Morning Post reported that the fake products were understood to feature about 10 different brands, including South Korean brands Sulwhasoo, Laneige and Innisfree, and were believed to have originated from mainland China and South Korea.

The packaging was deemed high quality and Fong said it was difficult to distinguish between the fake and legitimate products.

“Consumers were told the goods were parallel-imported products and were 10% cheaper than the retail price of the genuine items,” Fong told the newspaper.

Lab tests showed the fake products did not contain any harmful ingredients.

The raid was part of ongoing actions to combat the sale of suspected counterfeit cosmetic and skin care products.

According to the South China Morning Post, there were 59 complaints about fake Korean cosmetic and skin care products in the first 11 months of 2017, with 56 complaints in the whole of last year.

In March, Hong Kong customs seized more than 3,200 bottles of suspected counterfeit shampoo with an estimated market value of about HK $138,000, and in February, Hong Kong cosmetics chain Colourmix was fined more than $20,000 for possessing 481 bottles of fake makeup remover labelled with the Bioderma brand. The knock-offs had been found during a police raid in 2015.

Fong said customs had been taking “stringent enforcement actions” against fake goods and appealed to consumers to be wary of the products they purchase, while reminding traders to be “cautious and prudent” in merchandising “since the sale of counterfeit goods is a serious crime and offenders are liable to criminal sanctions”.

Under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, any person who sells or possesses for sale any goods with a forged trademark commits an offence. The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of $500,000 and imprisonment for five years.  

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