'Historic' bust nabs tons of fake cosmetics in Cambodia

Nearly 70 tons of fake cosmetics have been seized by Cambodian authorities in the biggest haul of its kind in the country.

The seized items, potentially worth millions of dollars, include skin-whitening cream, shampoo, conditioners, hair spray and hair colouring treatments, imitating brands including Sunsilk, Pantene, Head & Shoulders and Schwarzkopf. There were also products copying Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese and German brands.

The haul was the result of a three-month investigation and several raids in March and April in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and three locations in the adjoining Kandal province.

"This is the biggest number in the history of cracking down on fake products in our country," Meach Sophana, president of the Interior Ministry's Counter Counterfeit Committee, said during a press conference, describing it as "a historic bust of fake products".

Thirty tons of fake goods were recovered from Kandal province, while 38 tons were seized during a raid on a warehouse and shop in the capital.

Six people have been arrested in connection with the counterfeit cosmetic operation, including four Chinese, a Vietnamese-Cambodian dual national and a Cambodian, while another three have been detained.

"It took us three months to crack down on these cases. We cannot allow our country to be a place where we produce and distribute those fake products," Sophana said.

During the raids, authorities found evidence that the counterfeit cosmetics were mixed at the facilities from raw ingredients that had been smuggled into the country, and then packaged into packets and containers featuring false labels citing the products had been made abroad.

Authorities said the products had been sold in Phnom Penh but were unable to confirm whether the bogus beauty products had been distributed more widely or were destined for export.

Samples of the products are currently being tested and brand owners are being contacted.

"In the case of [counterfeit] products of Shiseido, we sent the samples to Japan. We have not received the results yet," Sophana said.

He has called on health authorities to investigate any recent health issues that could be linked to fake products. In 2011, a young Cambodian woman died after using a fake skin-whitening cream that contained high levels of mercury.

"We often see new on Facebook or in newspapers that some [women] who used skin-whitening lotion suffered side effects and died, or had their skin damaged," he said.

There are also plans to launch an investigation into fake medical products following concerns that as many as 50 per cent of pharmaceutical products in Southeast Asia are fake, Sophana said.

Meanwhile, it is understood a group of international cosmetic companies including Unilever and Shiseido are preparing to sue the sellers caught in the raids.

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