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UN ties counterfeits to organized crime

By Colleen Barry
Associated Press Writer / December 14, 2007

TURIN, Italy—Counterfeiting is a dangerous and growing enterprise controlled by organized criminals who are exploiting the same trade routes used for trafficking drugs, arms and human beings, the United Nations said in a report released Friday.

Seizures of counterfeit goods including toys, pharmaceuticals, clothing, handbags, CDs and DVDs in the European Union have soared 88 percent from 2000 to 2006, the report said.

Counterfeiting “is a 21st century gold mine” for criminal networks that can make great profit at little risk, said Sandro Calvani, director of the U.N. Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute which compiled the report.

“It is an immense source of profits which are readily reinvested in other illegal activities or used to launder money derived from other crimes,” Calvani said.

The report said counterfeiting carries far lighter penalties than traditional crime syndicate activities, such as trafficking drugs. But it provides much higher profits.

The most well-known criminal organizations involved in counterfeiting are the Chinese triads, the Japanese Yakuza, the Neapolitan Camorra and the Russian Mafia, the report said.

Italian anti-Mafia prosecutor Franco Zuccarelli, who attended the release of the report, said a Camorra turncoat bragged, as recently as 2003, of the “impressive” profits from counterfeiting. Investigators in Indonesia have said the Calabria-based ’Ndrangheta are trafficking in counterfeit CDs and DVDs in Asia, he said.

According to the report, the Italian Anti-Mafia Bureau has found growing links between Chinese criminal organizations and the Camorra.

Zuccarelli showed reporters a knockoff of a Salvatore Ferragamo tie that he bought last year in Bali for $8. The tie was in a box with a Ferragamo trademark signature, wrapped in trademark liner paper and carried a Ferragamo tag.

“I asked if I could get more, and the vendor said that there would be no problem producing a considerable number of the ties, but that I would need to talk to others who would negotiate the transaction,” Zuccarelli said.

The report also highlighted the economic losses and health risks tied to counterfeit goods, citing data gathered from governmental and international agencies.

Because entrepreneurs lose profits and states lose tax revenue, counterfeiting slows economic growth and costs an estimated 100,000 jobs in the European Union alone, it said.

Fake baby formula caused the deaths of at least 13 babies in China in 2004 and fake raki, a Turkish alcoholic beverage, killed 23 people in 2005.

“We need to make citizens of the world aware that counterfeit products can damage consumers’ health and economies, while reinforcing organized crime,” Zuccarelli said.

boston.com, The Boston Globe, 14 Dec 2007

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