Picture this: The holiday season is upon you and you’ve started scouring the Internet for the perfect gifts for friends and family. You happen to notice an ad for cheap designer handbags and your interest is piqued. You click the link, find some handbags that you like, and before you know it, you’ve got all your gifts taken care of at an outrageously reasonable cost. Sure, it’s possible the bags are counterfeits, but you’re willing to make the gamble figuring that no one will be the wiser. No harm, no foul, right? Well, maybe. We know that underpaid, overworked, and underage people are likely behind those goods. We also know that these goods aren’t likely to be inspected, meaning the materials could be dangerous and will definitely be low quality. But do you ever wonder where the money spent on counterfeit goods goes?
Sometimes the money just goes into the pockets of people who simply are okay with profiting off the hard work and intellectual property of others. But other times, as with a recent counterfeit clothing ring, the money may be funding terrorist activities.
Authorities in New York recently uncovered and disbanded a counterfeit ring that they had been monitoring via wiretap between February and July of this year. With enough evidence to go on, law enforcement officials uncovered more than 2,000 boxes of counterfeit clothing from brands like Polo Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, True Religion, and The North Face in a storage facility in Queens. The clothing that was found was estimated to have a street value of more than $3.2 million and a manufacturers’ suggested retail price of more than $13.4 million. Six men have been indicted thus far in relation to the counterfeit ring: Ali Chahine, 43, Imad Elcheikhali, 48, Wassim Faisal, 44, Haissam Saleh, 28, Mehdi Saleh, 37, and Kassem Tohme, 40.
Speaking on the matter, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. said, "Counterfeit goods are of inferior quality. They are often unsafe, unregulated, and of unknown provenance. Buying them may appear on the surface to be a bargain, but it harms all of us in the long run. As the holiday season approaches, I want to advise shoppers to avoid counterfeit goods, because purchasing them can carry serious hidden costs."
Even more concerning is a quote coming from Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly: "We were concerned about this operation not only because it was cheating New Yorkers but also because of indications that proceeds were sent to areas in Southern Lebanon of concern to the Intelligence Bureau," hinting that the profits from the goods may just be funding terror groups.
This isn’t the first time that a link has been suggested between terrorist groups and counterfeits goods, either. In fact, in 2007, Police Commissioner Kelly spoke at a conference on counterfeiting, saying “"It's virtually all profit and it isn't funding anything good. It is a threat to democracy and a threat to the rule of law." He went on to say that the group accused of the Madrid train bombings, a tragedy which took the lives of 191 people, was funded by the proceeds from the sale of pirated CDs.
In 2003, Richard Noble, a top official at Interpol, told the House International Relations Committee that groups like Al Qaeda and Hezbollah are making money in trafficking consumer goods like fake Nike sneakers and Calvin Klein jeans. "We know that Al Qaeda supporters have been found with commercial-size volumes of counterfeit goods,” Noble said.
Like we’ve conceded from the start, sometimes the money may just go into some undeserving pockets. Said pockets may belong to people who are breaking intellectual property laws and the goods may be produced by endangering the lives of many people in a factory. Yet, that’s no real reason to withhold from buying, no? Because all the bad stuff is out of sight, there’s no real palpable affect on most people when it comes to purchasing a counterfeit handbag or pair or jeans, so it’s easy to assume it’s a victimless crime. But when you consider everything else that comes with the prospect of buying a counterfeit product, doesn’t adding to that the mere possibility that your money somehow funnels into a terrorist operation enough to make you say it’s not worth it?
Jennifer Williams is a recent law student grad, who writes about fashion, the legal avenues available for protecting it, and the ways in which the laws are falling short. For more from Jennifer, visit her blog, StartFashionPause, or follow her on Twitter.