The European Union claimed success Tuesday in a groundbreaking international operation against fake goods smuggled into the EU that netted millions of counterfeit items ranging from cigarettes to soccer outfits and Viagra pills. The 10-day Operation Fake carried out in May targeted shipments from China and netted almost 500 tons of fake goods, the European Commission said in a statement.
It did not release a value of the goods seized, but estimated that the three large containers of counterfeit cigarettes found during the operation would have represented a loss in customs duties of Ђ3.9 million (US$4.6 million).
Trade in counterfeit goods is a fast growing problem around the world, accounting up to 9 percent of global trade and depriving genuine manufactures of up to Ђ300 billion (US$350 billion) a year, the Commission said.
The number of counterfeit objects seized by European customs officers increased 10 fold from 1998 to 2004, the Commission said.
May's operation was the first coordinated by a new central department of the EU's Brussels-based anti-fraud office. It involved over 250 customs offices from the 25 EU nations and found fake products in almost a quarter of containers subjected to a physical or scanner search.
"In view of the negative economic impact on European businesses, the risks for consumers and the fact that it is preferable to fight such crimes with actions rather than words, it was especially important that this operation should target counterfeit products," said EU Taxation Commissioner Laszlo Kovacs.
Commission data showed well known brands such as Ericsson mobile phones, Nike training shoes and Benson & Hedges cigarettes were among those targeted by the counterfeiters, the AP reports.
In one example highlighted by the Commission, Belgian officials raised suspicions about a shipment from Ningbo, China, which was supposed to contain plastic bowls destined for the Polish market. Following checks involving customs officials from seven nations, the container was opened and found to contain 8.7 million fake Marlboro cigarettes.