Dangerous fake goods seized in INTERPOL operations across Eastern and Southern Africa
LYON, France – Baby food, cosmetics, televisions, mobile phones and toys were among goods worth USD 5.6 million seized during an INTERPOL-coordinated operation targeting organized crime groups trading fake and illicit products across Eastern and Southern Africa.
Operation Wipeout was conducted across seven countries – Botswana, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia – between April and June which resulted in some 644,000 goods seized and more than 260 individuals arrested or placed under investigation.
The interventions in shops, warehouses, distribution hubs, seaports, highways and streets were staggered throughout the three-month long operation in order to more effectively target the various criminal networks operating in the region.
Involving law enforcement, regulatory bodies, the private sector and in Uganda their Bureau of Standards, authorities targeted products posing a particular danger to the public’s health and safety.
Counterfeit electrical products, such as switches, circuit breakers and other devices designed to provide electricity during power failures were recovered in Kenya; in Uganda electrical cables which failed to meet safety standards were seized; in Tanzania, one tonne of unapproved baby formula and four tonnes of cosmetics containing banned ingredients were destroyed, in addition to the identification and dismantlement of a factory producing fake CDs.
Following reports of branded gas cylinders being illegally refilled, resulting in leakages and even fires, more than 100 cylinders were recovered in Kenya. Seizures were also made of illicit insecticides and expired fertiliser which pose a significant health risk in a region where agriculture is a source of income for many families.
The operation was coordinated as part of INTERPOL’s Turn Back Crime campaign which aims to raise public awareness of how crimes can affect people’s daily lives, from potentially life-threatening poor quality counterfeit products, to funding organized crime through buying fake goods.
“These criminal acts impact on all levels of society, including businesses with genuine legitimate goods, governments lose tax revenue and the unsuspecting consumers are at risk from substandard or even dangerous products,” said Inspector General of Rwanda National Police and Delegate for Africa on INTERPOL’s Executive Committee, Emmanuel Gasana.
“Criminals totally disregard the health and safety of consumers. Consumer protection involving the police and other public and private agencies has always been at the heart of our police activities,” added Inspector General Gasana.
Fake clothing and accessories worth USD 3.27 million were seized in Botswana and Namibia where counterfeit clothes were discovered being sold alongside the genuine article at the same prices in a number of shops.
A significant number of night-time interventions were also carried out resulting in the identification of traffickers attempting to smuggle containers of cigarettes and alcohol across the Zambian border and counterfeit cigarettes and energy saving bulbs into South Sudan and Uganda.
“One of the key aspects of this operation is to raise awareness of the dangers of counterfeit and illicit goods amongst law enforcement, regulatory bodies and most importantly the public,” said Michael Ellis, head of INTERPOL’s Trafficking in Illicit Goods and Counterfeiting unit.
“The success of this operation conducted over such a long period of time and across two diverse regions is testimony to the dedication of the agencies involved and the commitment of the countries in ensuring the necessary resources were deployed,” said Mr Ellis.
“Criminals only care about profits, not the fact that the fake and illicit goods they are dealing in could have potentially devastating effects on people and also the environment, and we would encourage everyone to play their part in helping police turn back these crimes,” concluded Mr Ellis.
In addition to a three-day training course and operational planning meeting in Rwanda, participating countries also benefitted from online training through the online IP Crime Investigators College supported by INTERPOL and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) University.