Naples police break up Europe-wide ring selling Chinese-made fakes, including iPhones

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Naples police break up phony iPhone ring

ROME — Neapolitan mobsters have added another application of sorts to their flourishing trafficking in Chinese-made fakes — phony iPhones, along with counterfeit name-brand drills, chain saws and other consumer goods, Italian customs agents said Thursday as they announced they had broken up an alleged European sales network.

Besides the phony iPhones, fake labels included such well-known known brands as Bosch, Hitachi and Honda, police said.

Naples-based paramilitary tax and customs agents said police in 10 other European nations were involved in the yearlong probe, including in Spain, where a warehouse of fake consumer goods was found; Germany, where two arrests were made; along with Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Italian intelligence services had predicted that mobsters would invest their energy heavily in counterfeit name-brand goods as a less-risky way than drug trafficking to reap big revenues. The Rome-based Eurispes think tank has estimated Italy’s crime syndicates earn several billion euros annually in trafficking in fakes.

Lt. Col. Luigi Acanfora said police in several European Union countries tipped them to a pattern of counterfeit electronic goods and appliances being peddled by Neapolitans in their countries.

“Each time they seized the goods, there weren’t a lot of items, but they noticed the network was all over” the region practically, Acanfora said in a telephone interview from Naples.

Aided by intercepted phone conversations, police said the trafficking appeared to be engineered by two crime clans of the Naples-based Camorra syndicate, notorious for counterfeiting operations.

Seven suspects were arrested in Italy, and at least two Italians were being sought abroad, where they allegedly were selling the goods.

Seized were some euro5 million euros in bank accounts held by the suspects, Acanfora said.

To try to avoid detection by customs agents, the traffickers imported Chinese-made goods with Chinese-labels. Then, with assembly-line efficiency, the goods were separately given fake labels, placed in genuine-looking packages, complete with instructions tucked inside — all made in China, Acanfora said.

Some goods were sold door-to-door, others through stores.

The goods were falsely labeled as carrying European Union seals of safety approval, leaving consumers at potential risk for their own safety, said the police official, stressing the items included jackhammers, electric generators and power saws.

Police said in a statement that a tip from Germany last fall led to the seizure of some 4,000 fake labels.

Besides 11 EU nations, the fake goods were also marketed in Australia, authorities said.

Italian authorities battling organized crime have said trafficking in fake designer goods is now becoming more profitable for the Neapolitan Camorra than dealing in cocaine and hashish.

Last year, Acanfora’s boss, Gen. Giovanni Mainolfi, estimated that for every euro it costs to manufacture fake consumer goods, the Camorra earns 10 euros, while for every euro needed to run the drug trade, the syndicate reaps six or seven euros.

The crackdown on counterfeit consumer goods was code-named “Gommorah” after the best-selling expose of the Naples syndicate by Italian muckraking journalist Roberto Saviano. In the book, which later became a film, he describes Camorra mobsters’ ingenious counterfeiting operations.

will not be displayed