In a recent analysis of so-called poly-criminality, Europol highlights the link between IP violations within the EU and organized crime. The analysis shows that trademark infringements can be linked to serious offences – including pharmaceutical crime, cybercrime, drug trafficking, illegal possession of weapons, manslaughter, money laundering, tax fraud, corruption, and forced labor.
Often, the trade in counterfeits can support other crimes, for example with profits being invested in other criminal activities, or it can be linked to money laundering. On the other hand, other offences often support IP violations and make them possible in the first place. In one case, for example, corruption and forged documents were used by two organized crime groups, active in Turkey and Greece, to traffic counterfeits; profits amounting to millions were subsequently laundered. Forged documents can also be used to enable the production of counterfeits: A Spanish counterfeiting ring, for example, used fake documents to import active pharmaceutical ingredients from India and China, to produce counterfeit pharmaceutics in Spain.
Moreover, offences such as forced labor can be used in producing counterfeits: In two cases within the EU, for example, counterfeit tobacco products were produced under forced labor. While one criminal operation produced the counterfeits in rented warehouses in Budapest until November 2019, another criminal ring maintained an illegal production facility in a bunker several meters underground until February 2020. There, they forced workers to produce counterfeit cigarettes in dangerous conditions.
Other cases show that trademark infringements and other serious crimes are also committed as independent parallel activities by criminal organizations. During the raid of a counterfeiting workshop for luxury cars, Spanish authorities for example discovered an extensive cannabis plantation. And in an OLAF-led action against sea freight trafficking of counterfeit car parts, the investigators found 668 kilograms of cocaine, in addition to some 70,000 illegal car parts and around 400,000 other fakes; furthermore, signs of VAT fraud were also identified.
Looking at 29 specific trademark infringements committed online and offline, the report clearly highlights possible connections. The analysis is based on data from Europol, the EUIPO, and law enforcement agencies in EU member states, as well as verified data from open sources. The report aims to inform law enforcement authorities and policy makers about the various links and to highlight the need for international responses.