Tourists warned over syndicates

PUBLISHED : Friday, 09 June, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 09 June, 2006, 12:00am

Customs vowed yesterday to launch more raids against counterfeit syndicates that prey on tourists and expatriates ahead of the summer holiday season, and warned people against visiting the syndicates' shops for their own safety.

This came after officers arrested seven people and seized about $1 million worth of counterfeit goods, including fake Louis Vuitton handbags and Rolex watches, from three underground outlets in Tsim Sha Tsui over the past two days.

Speaking at a 150 sqft showroom raided by officers in Operation Skyhawk, the commander of customs' Trade Descriptions Investigations Division, Samson Chiu Yuk-hung, said the syndicates only target foreigners. Touts would approach foreigners in the streets and lure them into hidden showrooms that have few security arrangements.

'Following total strangers to these showrooms could be very dangerous,' Mr Chiu said.

There had been cases where the lives of customers were jeopardised. 'In the past there were cases where, during raids, the syndicates locked the door and told the clients to climb out of the window and escape with them,' he said.

Seven men of Southeast Asian origin, aged between 25 and 36, have been arrested in the past two days. Most of the counterfeit syndicates are run by Southeast Asians, a customs source said.

The operations were still continuing last night and more arrests or raids were possible.

The gangs sold their goods at a tenth of the genuine products' price, said Mr Chiu. But the counterfeit merchants could still make profits of up to 60 per cent, given their low costs.

The seized counterfeit products, suspected to have come from the mainland, were of 'passable quality', the commander said.

Amid the continuing crackdown by customs and the police, counterfeit syndicates have changed their mode of operation to avoid detection, Mr Chiu said.

Gangs were selecting potential customers more carefully and would not approach mainland visitors or locals in case they were customs or police officers. The gangs were even avoiding foreign men travelling alone after police used expatriate officers to catch them.

The syndicates were also moving their outlets away from their traditional spots near Nathan Road, said Mr Chiu, and moving their showrooms more often.