Counterfeit goods In this feature fake goods brand experts anonymous complaints A running BAT TLE A five-year investigation into top-brand counterfeit goods potentially the largest operation of its kind by trading standards concluded with three-year jail terms for the con artists. Jon Ashby tells the tale A s a new trading standards ofcer (TSO), I was encouraged to get out from behind my desk good advice for this investigation, which also showed how working closely with brand holders can make the difference for small departments tackling large-scale criminality in their areas. Brent and Harrow Trading Standards had been aware of Nirmon Grover over several years. He was a wholesale importer of cheap homewares and was initially based in his own warehouse before moving to a particularly large self-storage unit in Alperton, on the fringes of Brent. We advised him on a wide range of trading standards legislation over time and he had a reasonably clean track record with us. The handful of 24-hour access, self-storage facilities in Brent close to the busy North Circular Road and to Wendy Fairs now defunct Wembley Sunday market have always been a magnet for dealers in counterfeit goods. These traders have been able to access and move goods under cover of darkness and away from the prying eyes of self-storage staff, enforcing authorities and members of the public. Brent and Harrow TS was aware of the movement and storage of counterfeit goods at a number of these facilities over weekends, especially after Wembley market days. In late 2007, surveillance of a number of the main units including at Alperton as part of a mini intelligence project identied that a lot of activity was taking place, and that Sunday evening was the perfect time to swoop on such groups. Frustratingly, local police called off, at the nal hour, one large operation led by Brent and Harrow TS at the Alperton self-storage facility; ofcers said they couldnt properly risk assess the situation and the number of people we might encounter. This turned out to be a huge missed opportunity. Brent and Harrow TS received a handful of anonymous complaints about allegedly counterfeit trainers and other goods being delivered to the Alperton facility over three or four years, but no trace of any offending or tangible evidence could be identied. Eventually our luck changed and spectacularly we not only found the units where the goods were being stored, but also got hold of the bodies linked to them. In late 2008, Brent and Harrow TS received a notication from London Borough of Eneld Trading Standards that Grover International was selling trademark-infringing Spiderman toys, entitled Super Unrivalled Warriors. Mike Roylance, at Adidas, had provided Eneld Trading Standards with a witness statement, which they then supplied to us, along with other evidence that their ofcers had gathered. In April 2009, a team from Brent and Harrow TS visited the Grover self-storage unit and seized 1,441 three-packs of Spiderman toys. COURT FINDINGS Nirmon Singh Grover, 44, and Ajit Singh Arura, 36, the two main protagonists in an investigation involving more than 80,000 counterfeit luxury items including 34,100 pairs of fake Nike trainers pleaded guilty to four of six counts. Each man was later sentenced to three years imprisonment. At a subsequent proceeds of crime (POCA) hearing, Nirmon Grover accepted that his criminal benefit was 1,139,473.77 and his available assets 63,585.45, while Ajit Arura accepted a criminal benefit figure of 801,237 and that his available assets amounted to 13,233.37. The defendants were each ordered to pay the smaller, available asset amounts specified. In disbelief, and with great excitement, I raised the shutter. Inside the men were putting counterfeit goods into cardboard boxes A spectacular bit of luck Click thumbnails to view larger images At rst sight, this was a straightforward seizure and infringement report, but linked unit numbers within the building showed one registered in the name of the Grover men, supposedly sublet, but clearly full of counterfeit goods. These 8,000 items included nearly 1,200 pairs of Nike trainers and 2,300 items of jewellery, including fake Tiffany bracelets and necklaces. There were also several thousand bottles of Fine Perfumery [a Grover subsidiary] aftershaves and perfumes, which appeared to infringe Proctor & Gambles intellectual property (IP) rights. It later emerged that, in February 2009, Nirmon Singh Grover had signed a civil undertaking over P&G fragrances, paid damages of 6,000 and delivered up a pallet of offending goods to P&G. This undertaking also covered the fragrances found in unit 4B9 in April 2009. While I stood sentry over the nd outside the unit, a colleague obtained a warrant from the magistrates court and TSOs including myself made a large seizure from the unit late into the evening. Although, Nirmon Grover was obviously culpable for the counterfeit toys, a third man had a supposed subletting agreement for the unit from Grover and Arura. I didnt buy this, and documentary evidence later showed the unit had been returned to Grover and Arura shortly after the seizure on 23 April. As enquiries continued, I made links between Grover and six container shipments of counterfeit goods into the UK that Southampton customs had stopped in late August and September 2008. The combined total pairs of Nike trainers from these containers was 26,100. The goods were destroyed after Nirmon Grovers explanation that the items concealed behind his homeware goods in each container had, unbeknown to him, been placed there by his Chinese suppliers. He stuck to this explanation right up to the trial and, although brand experts had looked at the goods for HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and I had copies of associated witness statements after these examinations by brand representatives we did not have any counterfeit samples from these containers on which we could rely. After the German import haul (see panel, German connection), I had a huge amount of evidence both physical goods and documentation but I had no evidence of supply, nor had I caught my suspects with the goods. Another lucky break This was about to change on 18 February 2010, with the busiest two days of my career. A colleague and I were wrongly, as it transpired tipped off that the Grover men had closed down their business at Alperton and gone away. I dashed to the Alperton storage facility and up to the third oor to put my mind at ease. Just 10 yards away from the lift, the large unit door was open and I could see large quantities of Grover-style goods and packaging. Relieved, I began walking silently back to the lift. Then, a nearby unit shutter was raised and out walked Nirmon Grover. He quickly closed the shutter, nodded to me and walked into his main unit. I was stunned because inside the second unit were two other Sikh men and a oor full of goods, including Nike trainers and Ugg boots. In disbelief, and with great excitement, I raised the shutter. Inside Ajit Arura and a cash employee of Grovers later deported by the Border Agency were putting counterfeit goods into cardboard boxes, each holding 12 pairs of trainers and closely resembling Nike and Ugg ofcial delivery boxes. This nominally vacant unit contained 2,000 pairs of Nike and Ugg footwear, 103 counterfeit watches, including Rolex and Breitling, and 1,632 bottles of trademark-infringing perfumes and aftershaves from Fine Perfumery. It was a great team job. Many officers from around the borough cancelled their Friday-night plans to help me seize the goods I now had evidence of Nirmon Grover and Ajit Arura in possession of counterfeit goods identical to those that I had been seizing from elsewhere. In addition, some of the boxes of trainers were addressed to the Alperton facility and to random, unlinked names at other unit numbers. It transpired that the Grover men were having 12-pair cartons of counterfeit footwear delivered separately to the facility, using ctitious names to avoid detection. Grover had provided these names to self-storage staff, explaining that the deliveries were samples, with random names being used to evade duty/ tax. Having had containers of goods stopped, the deliveries were being split into smaller quantities to minimise risk. Self-storage staff now part of the investigation provided strong statements. On the same day, a check of three ground-oor storage units revealed even more Nike trainers. The units, although rented in different North African male names, were linked via the unit application forms and, entirely by uke, by one of the boxes from within unit 3B9 where I had apprehended Nirmon Grover and Ajit Arura with a false name. These units were recorded as Grover Rep on the associated application forms. The two Grover men were arrested and interviewed late into that night, and then bailed pending further enquiries. Unable to deal with three more units that night, we double padlocked GERMAN CONNECTION them and went to obtain entry warrants for early In December 2009, we were tipped off about morning execution, only to discover our locks cut and the a container shipment that had been stopped units emptied. Frustrated, we walked the upper oors by HMRC, this time at Londons Tilbury docks. of the facility, until we found distinctive locks from the The containers contents of 40,000 counterfeit emptied units re-used on the second oor of the building. goods were still in the possession of HMRC, Inside one unit were the missing contents, while the so Brent TSOs made their way there to take second unit was clearly one we had missed the previous possession of the 5,600 pairs of Nike trainers, day. It contained mostly Nike goods which were all 7,500 high-end watches including 3,246 identied as counterfeit by Chloe Long, of Nike (UK) but Rolex and 6,500 mobile-phone batteries, also K-Swiss trainers and Ugg boots. The second unit, plus a further 20,000 items from a Dover smartly laid out, was clearly a wholesale display room, secure warehouse. with sample shoes in front of each stack of trainers. The goods were being imported via a German company, of which Ajit Arura was These two units contained around 7,000 pairs of Nike the director. Attempting to obtain a witness trainers and a quantity of Ugg boots. It was a great team statement and certified German company job. Many ofcers from around the borough cancelled documentation was expensive, confusing their Friday-night plans to help me seize the goods. and problematic. The Anglo-German It transpired that this was a separate, well-organised Chamber of Commerce assisted us in our group, which was part of a huge supply chain that endeavours. Germany has a regional system stemmed from China into Europe and the USA. I was able for company registration unlike our UK to assist City of London ofcers with their investigation, national register, which is easily interrogated resulting in the North African gang receiving lengthy for information for a nominal fee. custodial sentences. Refocusing on my existing suspects, the numbers and values were simply staggering nor was this the nal seizure. In August 2010, I led a Brent and Harrow TS team accompanied by a Proctor & Gamble expert back into Grovers main unit in Alperton, where it quickly became apparent that huge quantities of lookalike fragrances infringed P&G designs and trademarks. Lacoste and Hugo Boss-branded products were also obvious trademark infringements. Neither Nirmon Grover nor his nephew, Ajit Arura, were prepared to accept responsibility for or knowledge of any of the counterfeit bags, phone batteries, mobile phone accessories clothing, jewellery or footwear, denying all knowledge of the goods and their origin. They also attempted to cloud matters, with neither being clear about who operated which part of the business. However, the two men eventually each pleaded guilty to two offences out of four on the indictment each of which related to a differing seizure while we withdrew offences relating to the rst seizure in respect of the Super Unrivalled Warrior toys and nal seizure of fragrances. By now, I had more than 85,000 items including 40,000 pairs of Nike trainers in my possession. Nike (UK) and Rolex kindly assisted with long-term secure storage of the bulk of the goods; without their help we would have struggled to store this quantity of evidence. The value of loss to the industry was conservatively calculated at 17m. Later, in court, the street value was agreed at 1.7m, not including the 7,000 trainers relating to the City of London investigation. This lengthy investigation secured my authority some excellent publicity, with some national newspapers claiming it was the largest trading standards counterfeit goods investigation up to that point. Whether or not this is true, I am immensely proud of the case and was delighted to collect a Highly Commended Anti-Counterfeiting Group Award at the 2014 CTSI Conference in Harrogate. Credits Published You might also like Jon Ashby is a senior enforcement ofcer Tuesday 25 August, 2015 Combating IP crime August 2015 for Brent and Harrow Trading Standards. Images: Peter Bernik / Shutterstock To share this page, click on in the toolbar