System questioned in Da Vinci scandal

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 July, 2011, 12:00am

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The scandal involving high-end furniture retailer Da Vinci's alleged sale of fake imported goods widened yesterday as investigations pointed to loopholes in the nation's quality-control system for imports.

The Beijing News reported yesterday that inspection records that were supposed to be made public could not be retrieved from authorities' official websites, and that such records as were available showed no evidence that Da Vinci's furniture had been checked.

The newspaper said records showed the national administration for quality control had inspected wooden furniture in 2009 and 2010, but Shanghai inspection authorities provided records of wooden furniture inspected only in 2010. The city's industry and commerce office had provided records of wooden furniture destined for retail that were checked only in 2004 and 2009.

'Currently we are mostly inspecting common and popular consumer products and seldom touch expensive imported goods,' an official with the department said.

A report by Xinhua confirmed the lack of oversight, citing another unidentified official as saying their scope of monitoring was limited by a fixed operating budget that prevented them from buying expensive luxury goods for inspection. As a result, only cheaper goods were inspected.

Shanghai-based luxury furniture chain Da Vinci has been under scrutiny since last week when a China Central Television programme accused the chain of selling domestically made furniture as imports from Italy. The claims have caused a major scandal among Da Vinci's wealthy customers, who were previously keen to pay high prices for its showy, European-style furniture.

On Friday, the Shanghai Consumer Protection Council ordered Da Vinci to refund and compensate its customers.

The release of recent records by Shanghai's Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau showed that 11 of the 110 consignments of furniture that Da Vinci had imported through the city's ports this year had in fact originated in China. The goods sat in a bonded area of the docks and had never been loaded on to a ship, but required import certificates as they had been cleared through customs. The furniture had been produced for US brand Thomasville by two firms in Ningbo and Haining, both in Zhejiang province .

The Shanghai Administration for Industry and Commerce ordered the firm to cease selling 'suspect merchandise' after furniture failed quality checks and was found to be made from materials that did not match its labelling. The administration said its investigations had found Da Vinci had erred on three counts: false advertising, selling substandard products, and labelling the majority from Italian firm Cappelletti and as solid wood, when they were in fact made of a mixture of melamine and plywood, with a wooden veneer.

Da Vinci chief Doris Phua said earlier that all Italian brands sold in Da Vinci's outlets were entirely made in Italy.