Europe-wide Crackdown: 378 Arrested in Major Counterfeit Clothing Bust

Published: 09 June 2023

Fake Items EUIPONearly 87 million euros worth counterfeit apparel, shoes and accessories were seized across Europe. (Photo: EUIPO, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

Police in 17 countries throughout Europe arrested 378 people and seized roughly two million pieces of counterfeit clothing, shoes, and accessories worth around 87 million euros (US$99.34 million), according to a statement by the European Union law enforcement agency (Europol) on Tuesday.

The EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) said that most of the seized counterfeit products, related to 258 brands, originated outside of Europe, specifically China, Hong Kong, Turkey, and Vietnam, and were smuggled across land borders or by sea.

Europol stated that the majority of the counterfeit items were sports and luxury goods, which criminals often advertised on social media networks.

“Different merchants have been seen posting pictures of available counterfeit goods, mostly clothing and footwear, on their business social media pages and profiles,” according to the statement.

The operation, dubbed Fake Star and coordinated by Europol, was conducted between March and December 2022 as the first EU-wide operation against the illegal trade in counterfeit apparel, footwear, and accessories. The Fake Star operation was led by the Spanish National Police, co-led by the Hellenic [Greek] Police, and supported by EUIPO.

A joint report by the EUIPO, through the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights (‘Observatory’) and the Spanish National Police, highlighted that "the sale of counterfeit clothes, shoes, and accessories in the EU remains a profitable market for criminals and a transnational phenomenon."

During the operation, national authorities conducted nearly 4,000 inspections, checking "commercial and industrial areas, flea markets, tourist areas, warehouses, shops, and other similar places where counterfeit goods can be sold," Europol stated.

It also mentioned that authorities carried out operational activities in ports, pop-up shops, and small e-commerce parcel distribution companies.

Europol emphasized the significant growth of the online trade in counterfeit items in recent years and the rise of e-commerce platforms as a market share, including the marketing of counterfeit goods on social media platforms. However, the operational findings proved that traditional offline markets remain a significant reality, deserving the attention of law enforcement.

In addition to multiple arrests and a significant seizure of counterfeit items, the Fake Star operation resulted in over 640 judicial proceedings and more than 1,300 administrative cases being filed.