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Crime in Hong Kong

12 arrested as Hong Kong customs bust syndicate selling fake Korean cosmetics

With 5,200 items seized, it is the biggest haul of counterfeit cosmetic and skincare products in the past two years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 3:33pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 3:52pm

Customs officers say they have smashed a syndicate supplying bogus cosmetic and skincare goods in Hong Kong following the arrest of 12 people and seizure of more than 5,200 counterfeit products.

The fakes – mostly Korean make-up and skincare products – with an estimated street value of HK$600,000 (US$76,923), were confiscated from nine outlets in Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok and Jordan and a warehouse in Tsing Yi on Wednesday.

The Post understands the fakes were purported to be products of about 10 different cosmetic brands and included popular South Korean ones such as Sulwhasoo, Laneige and Innisfree.

Superintendent Guy Fong Wing-kai, head of customs’ intellectual property investigation group, said it was the biggest seizure of counterfeit cosmetic and skincare products in the past two years.

Of the 12 suspects, 10 – nine men and a woman – were nabbed at the nine outlets on Wednesday after customs officers posing as shoppers were sent to collect evidence. About 500 fake items were seized in the nine outlets, which include drugstores and grocery shops.

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The suspected ringleader of the syndicate was a 31-year-old man who was picked up in a warehouse in a Tsing Yi industrial building where 4,700 fake products were confiscated on Wednesday.

On the same day, a 58-year-old man accused of helping the syndicate deliver the fake goods to the outlets was arrested at his home in the New Territories.

Customs officers began investigating the syndicate after receiving a complaint about a month ago.

“Initial investigations showed the syndicate had been in operation for more than a month,” Fong said, adding that it was possible the fake products came from mainland China and South Korea.

Because of the high-quality packaging, he said it was “not easy for consumers to distinguish between the real ones and fakes.”

The stores sold the fakes – including face powder, perfume, facial cleansers and facial masks – for between HK$70 and HK$800. But the shops bought the goods for as low as 10 per cent of the retail prices.

“Consumers were told the goods were parallel-imported products and were 10 per cent cheaper than the retail price of the genuine items,” the superintendent said.

Fong said laboratory tests showed the consignment did not contain harmful ingredients such as heavy metals.

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At midday on Friday, all 12 Hongkongers, aged from 25 to 58, were being held for questioning and had not been charged.

The operation was ongoing and further arrests might follow, according to the Customs and Excise Department.

Customs officers handled 59 complaints about bogus Korean cosmetic and skincare products in the first 11 months of this year. There were 56 such complaints in the whole of 2016.

Fong urged consumers to shop at stores with a good reputation.

He said customs officers would step up patrols and enhance enforcement action against counterfeit activities during the festive season.

Anyone with information relating to counterfeit activities should call the customs 24-hour hotline 2545 6182.

Under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, the maximum penalty for selling or possessing for sale counterfeit goods is five years in jail and a HK$500,000 fine.