Hong Kong Customs have arrested 15 people and seized more than 100,000 suspected counterfeit football jerseys valued at over HK$50 million, days before the 2022 FIFA World Cup is set to kick off in Qatar on Sunday.
Most of the confiscated jerseys were intended for export to Europe, South America and Africa, with only a small number reserved for local sales.
The enforcement operations were taken after the authorities saw an increasing demand locally and internationally for products linked to the upcoming event, especially jerseys of different national teams, the Customs and Excise Department said.
The haul was intercepted at control points in Shenzhen Bay and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge, as well as at numerous logistics companies located in Yuen Long, Tsing Yi and Kwai Chung between October 31 and November 10.
Customs officers used X-ray devices to spot “suspicious trucks” carrying the suspected counterfeit jerseys, said Divisional Commander Iris Cheung, who oversees the cross-boundary bridge command of customs at Shenzhen Bay.
The scans showed that freight was placed more densely at the middle or at the back of the container, which raised suspicion. Upon inspection, customs personnel found suspected fake jerseys mixed among other goods, which made it more difficult for Customs to detect them, Cheung said.
A majority of the suspected fakes featured the newest jersey designs of national teams. Manufacturers “spared no expense” to imitate the genuine jerseys, said Intellectual Property Transnational Investigation Divisional Commander Sky Fung, pointing to QR codes printed on a brand tag which would direct people to links of the authentic products when they were scanned.
The jerseys also featured three-dimensional fonts and claimed they were made with environmentally friendly fabrics, the customs said. The manufacturers paid attention to the packaging and included branded logos such as Nike, Adidas and Puma on the jerseys.
A total of 14 men, age 34 to 64, were arrested in the operation at the control points. Customs apprehended another man in Kwun Tong after he allegedly sold the fake jerseys online. All were released on bail pending investigation.
Gary Hung, group head of the Intellectual Property Investigation (Operations), reminded customers to visit reputable shops or websites when buying sports goods. They should also remain alert to “unusual prices” and limited edition of products offered by traders, he said, as the online shop involved in the case had retailed the jerseys for HK$200 to $250, while the authentic version should cost between HK$600 and $1,300.
“Before making the transaction decision, customers should take note of whether a complete and solid business address, as well as contact information, are provided by the website or social media platform, so that follow-up actions can be [taken] by the customers… when there are problems with the products,” Hung said.
Customs also warned retailers against selling counterfeit products.
The World Cup will start on Sunday with the host country facing off against Ecuador in a group match at the Al Bayt Stadium. A total of 64 games will be played to decide which country will be crowned champion on December 18.
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