Anti-counterfeit network React prepares large raid in St. Maarten

POSTED: 04/12/11 12:13 PM

St. Maarten / Curacao – Last week two jewelry stores on front street saw a thousand of their counterfeit watches crushed by an asphalt roller at the order of bailiff Karl Arndell. The action fit into a pattern of heightened awareness among brand manufacturers that for some, the Caribbean is still a pirate’s nest. But React, the European anti-counterfeiting network that is also active in the Caribbean with its Disosa branch, has the islands in the crosshairs, and Aruba may very well be next on the list. But a large raid in St. Maarten is also in the works.

An investigation by a reporter of the Amigoe newspaper showed that there is still plenty of counterfeit merchandise on the island, in spite of intensified controls by customs officers in the past eighteen months.

Souvenir and clothing stores in the Havenstraat and the Schelpstraat in Oranjestad have been the target of several raids in the past years. But when reporter Ariën Rasmijn made a tour, he found fake Nike shorts in the Sai Gift and Souvenir Shop, and fake Louis Vuitton and Coach purses for $12 in a souvenir shop next to the Kong Hing supermarket.

When Rasmijn asked a sales assistant, she told him that he could order them from a supplier on the island, in case he was interested in selling them as well.

In La Aruba, a large store on the Schelpstraat, Rasmijn found fake Quicksilver surf shirts, “complete with label that would fall apart after a couple of washings.”

In the Salina Store, the reporter found cheap wallets with the Gucci and Dolce & Gabana imprint. A store called Keke had the largest supply of counterfeit articles, Rasmijn found. Among them are “schoolbags of visible low quality” with logos from companies like Ecko and images of cartoon characters like Dora the Explorer, “reasonably looking surf shorts from billabong and Quicksilver, with convincing and detailed labels.”

Rasmijn noted that the design of the shorts, apart from colors and logos, was identical, including the buttons.

The Bula Surfshop is the only authorized dealer for Billabong in Aruba. Yair Lichtenstein, one of the store’s owners is aware of the counterfeits. “We have brought it to the attention of the brand several times, but what are you going to do about it? These brands are dumped on the market all over Latin-America.”

But when several stores in Curacao counterfeited a Bula Surfshop shirt with the imprint Dushi Yiu, Lichtenstein took action. “A store-owner in Curacao wanted to sell our shirts. But we declined, because we want to keep a grip on how our products are sold. Shortly afterwards we saw on a Facebook page that that store had received a batch of Dushi Yiu! shirts. On the back of our shirts is the logo of our store. That store in Curacao put the name of his store on the back in the same font we use. You understand that we went to a lawyer about that one. It is costing us money, but it is about our identity.”

Lichtenstein said that he also approached companies in Aruba that used slogans like Lekker Yiu! and other combinations, telling them that his company has the monopoly in Aruba on the slogan.

Rasmijn talked to Louis Comvalius, the representative for React in the Caribbean, and that conversation brought to light an inconvenient truth about St. Maarten.

“In St. Maarten retailers are selling more counterfeit merchandise than real brands,” Comvalius said.

“Within a very short time, there will be a large raid, together with law enforcement.”

Comvalius said that in Curacao and St. Maarten brands are protected by local legislation.

“When you have registered a brand and you have paid for it, you are entitled to protection,” he said.

Retailers who sell counterfeit merchandise are mostly dealt with via civil law, without intervention from the customs department, the police or the public prosecutor’s office. “That works faster and its costs us and the prosecutor’s office less, while the results are the same. We consult with the brand before we decide to confiscate merchandise via the court, or that we do a raid with law enforcement.”

Comvalius said that during raids counterfeit merchandise is confiscated. “That way you hurt them in their wallet,” he said. After that, they will think twice before doing it again.”

In most cases the brands and the retailers agree on a settlement, but some retailers put up a fight. Comvalius: We have five or six cases of retailers who refuse to settle.”

One of the cases is about the sale of Robin Ruth bags with the imprint Aruba. “There are a lot of these counterfeited bags. As soon as that company brings out a new design, or a new size, the counterfeits are on the market within a month.”


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