Police warning over fake electrical goods scam

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The Independent Online

Police warned today that thousands of British consumers may have been caught up in a globe-spanning multi-million pound fake electrical goods scam backed by Italian gangsters.

Investigators suspect tens of thousands of pounds worth of counterfeit power tools and clothing imported from China have been sold by door-to-door salesmen across the country.

They said the cheap imitations, including electricity generators, power drills and chainsaws, did not comply with any European safety standards and could potentially be deadly.

Police said the transportation and distribution of the goods was co-ordinated by an organised crime gang based in Naples which made millions of pounds in profit over several years.

News of the racket came today as police in seven countries across Europe, including Britain, swooped on suspected gang members and properties used to stash the products.

Specialist anti-mafia prosecutors arrested seven people in Naples and seized assets worth more than £10 million, including almost £4 million in cash held at banks and safety deposit boxes.

Action also took place in the Czech Republic, Germany, France, Sweden and Spain, all co-ordinated by international agencies Europol and Eurojust.

In Britain a property suspected of being used as a satellite base by gang members was searched in Edinburgh.

Benoit Godart, who led the operation for Europol, said no-one was arrested at the property, but paperwork and other evidence was seized that would contribute towards the overall case.

He said: "We collected some evidence that will be of interest to the fraud investigation which is led by colleagues in Italy."

Mr Godart, a specialist in intellectual property crime, said the Edinburgh property probably served as a base for activities across Scotland and south of the border.

The raids were the latest stage in a two-year investigation in which 60 people have been arrested and 800 tonnes of counterfeit products worth more than £11 million seized during searches at 143 warehouses.

Police said the fake power tools were very profitable, with a generator costing around £30 to make in China selling for up to £400. A genuine product could cost up to £1,100.

Other countries involved include Belgium, Australia, Iceland and Finland and brands targeted include Honda, Husqvarna, Stihl, Hitachi and Bosch.

Rob Wainwright, head of Europol, said: "Europol is committed to defending European citizens from the threats posed by these and other serious criminal activities."