US authorities said on Friday they have filed charges against nine people believed to be members of a vast smuggling ring that brought in hundreds of thousands of counterfeit shoes and handbags from China and Malaysia.
The network also extended to Britain, where authorities on Thursday seized another six people in the London area along with 50,000 counterfeit items, US prosecutors said.
A federal grand jury in the eastern US city of Baltimore indicted four Chinese nationals, two Malaysians and three naturalized Americans. Together they face more than 1,000 years in prison and millions of dollars in penalties.
It said the suspects sent 33 shipments of counterfeit goods, mostly made in China or Malaysia, to the Port of Baltimore over a year and a half until December.
The goods included 120,000 pairs of counterfeit Nike shoes, 500,000 fake Coach handbags, 10,000 pairs of counterfeit Coach and Gucci shoes and 500 counterfeit Cartier wrist watches, the indictment said.
“Criminal organizations that smuggle and sell counterfeit goods in the United States endanger our economy and rob legitimate industries of their business,” said John Morton, assistant secretary of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, in announcing the arrests.
The prosecutors allege that the suspects also laundered US$122,943.50 for their illegal operation and said that London authorities confiscated £350,000 (US$530,000) in cash.
A suspect also sent a sample of fake Viagra pills to an undercover agent, hoping to branch out into sales of the erectile dysfunction drug, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors charged the suspects with 72 counts of smuggling, trafficking in counterfeit goods, conspiracy and money laundering. If convicted on all counts, they collectively face 1,095 years in prison and US$66 million in penalties.
The defendants were identified as Malaysian nationals Wai Hong Yong and Eng Cheng Kee; Chinese nationals Hexing Yang, Chan Hong Xu, Lidan Zhang and Kai T. Jaing; and US citizens Josephine O. Zhou, Kin Yip Ng and Yenn-Kun Hsieh.
One of them, Chan Hong Xu, remains at large.
The other eight suspects were arrested across the eastern United States and the Pacific territory of Guam and will be brought to Baltimore, officials said.
The US and other developed nations have frequently voiced concerns about widespread counterfeiting in China, believing it badly hurts companies in their countries.