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Arrest of HK resident in PHL, part of huge US DOJ bust of int'l smuggling ring

March 3, 2012 11:58pm
The Department of Justice in the United States revealed Friday in New Jersey (Saturday in Manila) that a Hong Kong resident arrested in Manila on Feb. 25 is part of “a massive counterfeit smuggling enterprise—a scheme involving individuals who were stealing corporate identities and smuggling counterfeit merchandise out of China.”
US Attorney Paul J. Fishman said Mr. Soon Ah Kow was indicted last Jan. 6 on the strength of evidence gathered by “undercover agents and court-authorized wiretaps to uncover two elaborate schemes to defeat federal border and port security measures at Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal in Elizabeth, New Jersey.”
Kow is one of 23 accused already in federal custody. A statement issued by the office of Fishman said Kow was charged with drug importation, smuggling and counterfeit goods trafficking offenses.
The US DOJ said undercover agents “lured Kow, who was unaware he was indicted, to the Philippines under the guise of paying him for past transactions and discussing future illegal activities.”
“The DOJ, working closely with the Philippine authorities, obtained a provisional arrest warrant for Kow, who was arrested by Philippine law enforcement agents as he stepped off his plane in Manila,” Fishman’s office said.
Homeland Security Investigations Associate Director James A. Dinkins said “approximately $300 million worth of illicit goods would have been smuggled into our country” had the indicted suspects not been caught.
“The enormity of this case – and the fact that we followed the investigative leads directly to the source in China, where so many counterfeit goods originate – is a stern warning to counterfeiters and smugglers everywhere,” Dinkins added.
Kow’s arrest is the result of about three and a half years of operations, according to unsealed indictment documents the US DOJ cited.
“The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) found out in August 2008 that Kow was looking for assistance in importing several containers of counterfeit cigarettes and clearing them through customs. Depending on the size, each such container is worth approximately $2.5 million to $5 million,” the New Jersey office of the US DOJ said.
“Following negotiations over recorded telephone calls and intercepted emails, the FBI undercover agents wired approximately $70,000 to a bank account in Taiwan to cover the price of 1 kilogram of crystal meth, shipping costs, and a broker’s fee for Kow.
Kow, aged 72, faces 14 counts of various charges, including one count of “conspiracy to import methamphetamine” which carries a mandatory minimum jail time of 10 years to the maximum of life in prison, plus a $4 million fine.

One of the largest ops vs smuggling

More than two dozen people from the United States and China were charged on Friday with running a $325 million counterfeit goods ring through a New Jersey port, one of the largest smuggling busts of knock-offs in history, authorities said.
Simultaneous stings by two federal agencies at Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal in Elizabeth, New Jersey, also uncovered a related scheme to smuggle crystal methamphetamine into the United States from Taiwan.
"It's huge," said New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman at a press conference, standing beside photographs of mountains of boxes of the seized bogus goods.
"It's one of the largest counterfeit goods cases ever investigated in this district and one of the largest ever prosecuted in the country," Fishman said.
More than two years of undercover investigations by the FBI and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) resulted in the indictment of 29 people, including 22 arrested in the United States, one picked up in the Philippines and six still at large.
Arrests were made in New Jersey, Texas and New York, authorities said.
Knock-offs of hot consumer items including Nike sneakers, Lacoste shirts and Louis Vuitton handbags were packed into shipping containers imported from China through Elizabeth, the busiest port on the East Coast.
The brand-name insignias were concealed during shipment through various methods and, once the goods arrived in the United States and were moved to a warehouse, were "processed" to reveal the logos. In one case, authorities said, fake Ugg boots were shipped with an unmarked sole that was then removed in the warehouse to reveal a sole beneath it that read "Ugg."
From the warehouse, the goods were distributed to New York, New Jersey and throughout the country. The scheme depended on fraudulent documents ranging from bogus shipping paperwork to fake Social Security cards used by the smugglers.
"The counterfeit goods were manufactured in China and smuggled into the United States through containers falsely associated with legitimate importers," authorities said in a press release.
"The cost of counterfeiting is incredibly high -- in the billions and billions of dollars lost to legitimate companies," Fishman said. — with Reuters/ELR, GMA News
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