From fake designer handbags to ‘life-threatening’ counterfeit medicines, Dubai Customs inspectors are increasing their crackdown on fraudulent goods being transported through the emirate’s borders.
In an interview with Al Arabiya English, Yousef Ozair Mubarak, the director of Dubai Customs Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) Department, said they are stepping up the fight against criminals trafficking illegal and counterfeit goods through Dubai, with millions of dirhams of fake products already being seized each year at the emirate’s air, land and seaports.
In one case, customs officials foiled a shipment of pills marketed as life-saving medicine, but instead were made of up powdered construction material.
Mubarak said Dubai Customs are charged with checking goods at 24 entry points into the emirate between Dubai and Hatta through land, sea and air. The most seized products include fashion items, electronics, fake cigarettes, perfumes, medications, and sporting apparel, while other counterfeit products include shisha oils. Criminals also try to transport counterfeit steel pipes that are potentially hazardous to the oil and gas sector and the safety of its workforce.
In 2020, Dubai Customs successfully brought 34 cases – amounting to tens of thousands of counterfeit goods and millions of dirhams in street value – against counterfeit importers through the emirate’s legal system.
This rose to 63 cases in 2021, with the total number of intellectual property seizures in the first nine months (January to September) – amounting to 281 seizures, with an estimated value of around $10 million (Dh35.83 million). During this period, about 1.011 million pieces of counterfeit goods for 153 brands were recycled. This included more than 40,000 Apple products.
There have been 50 cases brought against counterfeiters so far in 2022. In a single month – in March 2022 – Dubai Customs recycled 23,000 counterfeit items, with a street value of roughly $380,000 (Dh1.4 million).
Khulood Ibrahim Alhosani, an officer with the IPR department, told Al Arabiya English: “Nowadays when we speak to the public as we speak about trademarks and fake goods, they picture a fake Louis Vuitton but at Dubai Customs we don’t only deal with fashion but a wide-ranging number of counterfeit products – such as medical goods.”
Giving an example, Alhosani said tackling counterfeit medical goods is vital as it could have life-threatening consequences.
“During COVID-19, for example, we seized shipments of fake facemasks, while one of the biggest cases linked to the IRP department was a shipment of pills imported through Dubai ports. Thankfully, we seized it. The pills were meant to be used to treat a certain medication condition linked to the colon, when we did the test on the pills it turned out that the pills were made up of construction powder elements; the material you would use in the construction of buildings.”
Had this shipment of pills not been successfully seized by the Dubai Customs inspectors, these fake drugs – marketed as a tool to help fight life-limiting disease – could have proved harmful or even deadly for the patients.
“The most common (counterfeit) products we see are clothes, technology, electronics, shoes, perfumes, bags, watches, car oils – the list is wide-ranging,” said Alhosani.
ebel Ali is one of the busiest ports of entry for inspectors. In 2020, they seized 30 shipments in 2020 alone, worth more than $800,000 (Dh3 million).
International trade in counterfeit and pirated products amounted to as much as $464 billion in 2019, according to a report published by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The report estimated that 2.5 percent of world trade is linked to counterfeited items.
In 2020, customs officials in the UAE seized 923,724 counterfeit goods at various entry points to the country. The Intellectual Property Rights Report in 2020, which was issued by the Federal Customs Authority, identified hundreds of thousands of counterfeit items discovered in numerous raids. According to the report, counterfeit goods seizures by marine or sea transport represented 70.7 percent of total seizures, followed by air cargo at 19.5 percent.
“Intellectual property rights are everything from the watch that you are wearing, to the technologies around you,” said Alhosani. “Everything has developed throughout the years because of intellectual property.”
A rise in forged goods
However, when it comes to goods – from fake clothes, handbags, watches, perfumes, videos, CDs and computer programs – criminals will copy it, said Alhosani.
“Counterfeiters are becoming increasingly advanced and using more and more sophisticated tools, it means as law enforcers we always have to be one step ahead. We have to race them, and this always is helped by partnerships, with the private sector, with the community, with the trademark owners, with the commercial entities…partnership is crucial, as is sharing information.”
Alhosani said Dubai Customs works on intelligence, advanced risk software and the “security smarts” of experienced customs inspectors at ports to be able to detect counterfeit goods smuggled in through shipments into the country.
“If we have a container, for example, and an inspector suspects this might contain counterfeit goods, the first thing he will do is take a sample of the products and check the trade registration of the goods.”
Samples of the goods are shared with the companies that own the trademark to the goods – be it technology giants or luxury fashion houses – and if they also suspect the product is counterfeit, the product is taken to be inspected against a sample of an original genuine product at a Dubai Police lab.
Within days, inspections will be able to validate whether the product is a genuine article – or a fake.
If a fake, the shipments are seized, and the importers are put on Dubai Customs ‘blacklist’ restricting their future movement of trade.
In a recent move, Dubai Customs now no longer simply destroy the fake products – but work hand-in-hand with local partners and trademark representatives to recycle the goods, allowing the counterfeit products to be disposed of in an eco-friendly way.
Alhosani explains that recycling allows Dubai Customs to convert unusable counterfeit goods into valuable commodities while protecting the environment, by reducing landfill waste and carbon dioxide emissions associated with incineration.
Alhosani said it was vital to stop counterfeit goods being available in the public domain.
“There is both the material and moral element behind tackling counterfeit goods,” she explained. “Intellectual property helps drive economies. It is also what drives new ideas and innovation, which we need in current challenging times such as the period of climate change or during the crisis COVID-19 pandemic. We need innovative ideas to solve problems, and all these innovations need to be protected by intellectual property rights.”
“Also, by stopping counterfeit goods we are protecting the community from products that are potentially harmful.”