Fans to face fines, jail over fake Olympic goods

Last updated 00:00 01/01/2009

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Olympics 2008

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A crackdown on fans returning from the Beijing Olympics with unofficial merchandise or counterfeit goods will be launched ahead of this year's Games.

Christophe Zimmermann, head of the World Customs Organisation's counterfeiting and piracy unit said the offensive would not only target fans as they left China but when they arrived at ports or airports in their home countries.

"I can not reveal the details for security reasons, but we will be launching a new operation for Beijing and the Olympics," Zimmermann told Reuters.

He warned that fans caught with any counterfeit products on their return - particularly in Europe - would face heavy fines and possibly imprisonment if found guilty.

"Even if you are found with the smallest item, even just one item, you will face at least a fine. Of course, if you stock up then it will be more serious," Zimmermann said.

"My message to fans that buy these fakes, is to take care when you come back because there is a very good chance you will be caught.

"But also I ask them to think of where the product has come from such as sweat shops made by underage children and where the money is going. This is organised crime," he added.

Zimmermann said customs officers outside China would be tracking flights arriving from the Asian country in the run-up to the Games and after they finish, checking extensively for unlawful goods.

He also warned the clampdown would not only focus on unofficial merchandise directly connected to sport's most prestigious event. His officers will also be probing for other fake items such as clothing, sportswear and jewellery.

Over 80 percent of counterfeit or unsafe products come from China. A study carried out by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) last year said counterfeiting accounted for over two percent of global trade.

The Asian powerhouse has repeatedly been threatened with trade bans by both the European Union and the United States over flaws in its safety standards which has led to numerous recalls of Chinese products such as toys and toothpaste.

"China is taking this issue very seriously, even more seriously in the light of the Olympics, but you cannot imagine the scale of the problem," Zimmermann said.

"Nearly five years ago, we intercepted our first quantity of fake Beijing Olympic merchandise and it was a massive haul. So imagine what has been produced since then.

"But we are confident our operation with the help of the Chinese authorities will prove successful. But the main focus will be convincing the consumer not to buy the product in the first place."

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- Reuters

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