EU report reveals need for prosecution reforms

© Andrey Kuzmin / Fotolia.
According to a new report, organised crime is evolving and counterfeiters are changing their approach. As a result it is therefore imperative that the authorities and instruments responsible for enforcement and control such as customs, police and legislation adapt.

Piracy of products and brands is deemed one of the most important new criminal activities in the EU. This is one of the conclusions in the latest report by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), which investigated illicit trading practises in the areas of alcohol and tobacco products as well as pharmaceuticals in various EU countries. The core finding was: while public authorities are still focused on the pursuit of hierarchical organisations, it has turned out that organised crime groups (OCGs) are becoming less localised or hirarchical. Instead, counterfeiters increasingly join together in loose, wide-spread networks. “[These] Groups are quick to recognise and respond to opportunities; they diversify their activities to minimise risk and maximise investment; they capitalise on new technologies; they build a network of contacts with varied expertise; and they cooperate with international partners.”

Due to a lack of standards in legislation and related sanctions within the EU, international counterfeiters often only face minor penalties when caught, while the potential for great profits in product piracy keeps attracting more players.“Member states are ineffective in deterring both new entrants into illicit trade and repeat offenders,” the report says.

In addition, many criminal groups use the relatively lenient controls in free trade zones to obscure the origin of shipments of illegal imitations. Also, product components can be sent just as easily. This allows counterfeiters to spread their production processes throughout different countries and thus avoid criminal prosecution. “There are no enforceable international standards governing FTZs, officials described some FTZs as descending towards lawless territories.”

Apart from the introduction of international laws and more severe sanctioning, the report also sees a need for increased consumer protection. This must include reducing the demand for counterfeit products in the first place as well as protecting customers who unwittingly bought fakes. Particular attention must be given to the internet and new media platforms such as apps, social networks, and messaging services. “While many consumers intentionally purchase goods illicitly, others are deceived into believing they are making a genuine purchase, with OCGs creating increasingly professional websites.” Improving communication and awareness raising are considered key measures.

Among different measures designed to support EU member states in the fight against product and brand piracy, the experts at RUSI propose the establishment of a special anti-corruption centre under the auspices of Europol and Frontex, the European Border and Coast Guard Agency. The centre should then, for example, provide advice on defining testing procedures, organise trainings to fight corruption among government officials, and promote the necessary cooperation between EU member states.

The EU-report titled “On Tap Europe: Organized Crime and Illicit Trade in Tobacco, Alcohol and Pharmaceuticals”, published by the Royal United Services Institutes is the last report from a series dedicated to illegal trade in the EU. The six-part series examines the extent, methods and trade routes used by organised criminal networks and seeks to develop possible solutions and approaches in the fight against piracy.

A similar analysis from 2015 by Europol and EUIPO also dealt with new methods of product and brand piracy in the EU. The key finding at the time was that counterfeits are more and more produced in Europe. An increase in awareness raising actions was proposed as a promising counter measure (cf. our German-language report).

Sources: Royal United Services Institute, Securing Industry

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