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THE INTELLIGENCE Lord Younger


WORLDWIDE CO-OPERATION


“While there is not the suggestion that all of the food and drink is harmful, some clearly is. Consumers are being ripped off ”


17,156 litres of counterfeit Glen’s vodka, involving duty and VAT of £269,300. This mirrored other seizures across the UK where trading standards enforced consumer protection legislation. According to Huw Watkins, head of the intelligence hub at the Intellectual Property Offi ce, Operation Opson is increasingly important to the industry because it has “identifi ed the range and scope of the types of food and drink that are counterfeited”. He said: “While there is not the suggestion that all of the food and drink is harmful to health, some clearly is. The other issue is that consumers are being ripped off by criminals, by the fraudulent practices. In respect of alcohol, this also has revenue implications.” For Watkins, the priority for


his team last year was to raise awareness. In doing so, the Operation Opson team “made valuable contacts within industry and enforcement within the UK”. Another key aim of the operation was to get the message out, which involved distributing an Opson III booklet to 32,000 people across a range of organisations. A clear message was sent out by the latest operation to organised crime networks says Watkins. “In one case, £34,000 was seized, six lorry loads of revenue-evading goods, 20-plus pieces of counterfeit machinery (such as generators/ chainsaws) as well as fake wine and spirits. There were fi ve arrested in this case, and a winding-up petition in respect of the company has been served.”


For more go to foodserviceconsultant.org In being able to get the national and international law


enforcement agencies to co-operate so effectively, one of the biggest challenges Watkins’s team faced, he says, was in engaging industry, not least on the issue of product confi dence. For that very reason, the names of brands and recognisable images are never used in Opson media releases, says Watkins. “My experiences are also that the


brands are reluctant to share information on the basis that competitors may receive this information,” he says. “That is not the case. Co-operation with agencies is at times patchy, but improving as the awareness is raised. We have already had enquiries from trade organisations to be part of Opson. We are very fortunate to have had the support of the National Crime Agency and the Border Force – both organisations fully understand the risk and the additional


criminality that is associated with those involved in food crime.” According to Watkins, the


sectors of the food industry that have been involved have defi nitely seen the most value from engaging


with enforcement. “In the case mentioned above, the complaint from a brand led to the involvement in the case of the Carabinieri in Italy, Gendarmerie in France and the Guardia Civil in Spain.” So, what can we expect from the


2014 Opson IV planning conference in July? “More of the same,” says Watkins. “The value of partnership working in this has been signifi cant. The decisions as to the goals for the UK will be set at the planning conference.”


The message is clear – so long as industry bodies and the relevant government departments continue to work effectively together, the net is closing on the gangs responsible for this dangerous and illicit trade.


13


Countries which took part in Opson III: Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Chile, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Macedonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, South Korea, Sweden, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, United Kingdom, USA and Vietnam.


UK ACTIVITY


In the UK, the following organisations took part in the enforcement activity: Europol / Intellectual Property Offi ce Metropolitan Police HM Revenue & Customs London & Kent Trading Standards HO Immigration Vehicle Operators Standards Agency Food Standards Agency wine inspectors Environmental Health SE Government Agencies Intelligence Network BBC TV consumer aff airs series Fake Britain South East Regional Organised Crime Unit


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