MORE than £5 million of counterfeit goods have been seized in west London – including the largest ever haul of pirate Bollywood DVDs.

About 1.75 million items of rip-off merchandise -an estimated 13 tonnes – were seized when officers raided 11 units at a self-storage site in Hayes this week. About 75 per cent of the 200,000 fake DVDs were Bollywood titles, others included the latest cinema releases and pornographic films. Other items included 1.5 million cover sleeves, blank DVDs, CDs, fake Nike and Timberland trainers and sports clothing. More than £6 million in cash was also seized. Four people were arrested and three cars seized, with more arrests expected to follow, Ealing Council said.

DVD titles seized included the latest Bollywood films Don, Umrojaan and Jaaneman and Hollywood blockbusters such as The Devil Wears Prada, Borat, and Saw III. Yet to be released films including this year’s Christmas movie The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause were also found.

British Phonographic Industry general counsel Roz Groome said: “This is without doubt the biggest seizure of Bollywood film and DVDs. “Our record company members will no doubt be pleased to hear that this operation has disbanded what we allege was a highly organised and extensive illegal counterfeiting outfit.”

Named “Operation Don” after the new Bollywood action blockbuster of the same name, the investigation followed months of investigation by the council’s trading standards officers, police and the BPI. Councillor Will Brooks said film piracy was not a victimless crime and those who bought pirate DVDs supported organised crime. “Our officers have followed the chain of intelligence from the street sellers and market stalls to the very centre of packaging and distribution. Smashing this ring at its heart will have a major impact on the counterfeit market in West London and beyond,” he said. “Film piracy may seem like a victimless crime but it has links to organised crime and other criminal activity including the drugs market, violence, benefit fraud, and the abuse of people who are forced to sell these items on the street.”

Genuine items equivalent to those seized would have an estimated value of more than £5 million, the council said. While pirate DVDs would usually be sold for between £3 and £5 each, officers believe the trainers and clothing could have been passed off as genuine items and sold for close to the regular retail price.

Film piracy nets more than £270 million a year for criminals in the UK. Counterfeit DVDs and CDs are sold everywhere from ice cream vans through to barber’s shops and pubs and clubs. It is an attractive trade for criminals who see it as a low risk, high profit industry. Gangs are thought to employ illegal immigrants trying to pay off their debts for a passage to the UK or to cover their lodgings. Counterfeiting has also been linked to terror organisations, which are said to use the trade in fake goods as a means of raising funds and laundering cash.

Friday 17th November 2006