October 30, 2020
Cooperation between The Imaging Consumables Coalition of Europe, Middle East and Africa (ICCE) and local law enforcement agencies in East Africa are meeting with success in the battle to remove counterfeit goods from local markets, which impacts local economies.
According to the ICCE organised criminal gangs use ports of entry along the East African coast to bring counterfeit products and fake packaging and labels onto the continent. Once in Africa, they are assembled in so-called product completion centres (PCC), which are often hidden in residential areas of cities, such as Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania. In PCCs, people work for low pay in poor conditions and with little regard or no regard to health and safety.
However, printer manufacturers are joining forces with law enforcement agencies to fight back against the organised criminal gangs that operate PCCs and supply counterfeit imaging supplies locally. ICCE members HP Inc and Canon are using the EPIC range of tactics – Enforcement, Prevention, Intelligence, Communication – to remove fake goods from the market and bring criminals to account.
ICCE explained that the most important weapon in the OEMs’ armoury is the close relationship they have built with law enforcement agencies in countries in the region. As a result, HP Inc has increased its rate of product seizures by four times in East Africa over the past four years, leading to successful actions in Tanzanian courts.
Paul Williamson, Regional Investigations Manager (Europe, Middle East and Africa) for HP’s Anti-Counterfeit Programme, deals with between five and eight investigations a week in this region, resulting in up to three enforcements a week on shops and PCCs containing counterfeit HP supplies.
“Counterfeit criminal activity is not good for the African economy and we’re helping to limit it. We’re doing a lot of work in Tanzania working in partnership with the law enforcement authorities,” Williamson said.
A case often starts with research by investigators, who work for a local investigation team. Sometimes working from a tip-off, they visit shops displaying what they suspect are counterfeit goods, usually indicated by low prices, and commence an investigation.
When sufficient evidence is collected, the investigator, often in conjunction with HP, Canon or other brands, applies to the Fair Competition Commission for a warrant to raid the premises. The investigators accompany FCC agents to the location and identify the counterfeit products. If they discover a PCC they will also usually find and seize flatpack boxes and labels. The next stage is a court case which can result in the destruction of counterfeit products and a fine for the counterfeiter.
A recent raid on a retail store and associated PCC in Dar Es Salaam led to agents seizing 2,000 finished counterfeit toner cartridges. The shop was closed down and the case is going through the courts. In 2020 HP has seized approximately 90,000 counterfeit HP cartridges, plus component parts, in Tanzania.
“We have very good relations with the FCC,” said Williamson. “Whenever we run training, we invite the head of the FCC and other law enforcement agencies along, which really increases understanding between us. We appreciate the close level of cooperation and open lines of communication with local agencies. Without their assistance we couldn’t operate so effectively in Tanzania.”
Williamson also works closely with fellow ICCE member Canon, often mounting joint operations.
During the first half of 2020 raids on PCCs around Dar Es Salaam for Canon resulted in the seizure of around 50,000 toners, cartridges and flat pack boxes with stencils. Canon’s IP Enforcement Specialist said: “We believe in supporting the law enforcement agencies to stop this illegal activity, which is linked to organised crime. We work through our local investigators with local law enforcement agencies such as the FCC and we’re very happy with the level of cooperation we’ve established.”
She also believes that cooperation between brands through organisations like ICCE is key to tackling the counterfeit gangs: “With a counterfeit operation it’s usually not just one brand being infringed, so it’s extremely rewarding to work collaboratively with others so more than one brand can benefit from shared activities.”
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