Interpol, the international police network, is warning that terrorists are turning to the lucrative trade in counterfeit goods to finance their operations. The agency says governments are only beginning to wake up to the threat.
At a two-day conference in Brussels, law enforcement officials and international business leaders sought to form a common front against counterfeiting, which is estimated to yield $600 billion a year for criminal organizations. That is equivalent to six percent of total global trade last year.
Counterfeiting does not just involve compact discs, clothes or cosmetics. Fake medicines and baby food are also a growing problem, as are counterfeit auto parts and even aircraft parts.
And yet, Interpol says that, despite the threat counterfeiting represents for safety and health, most governments overlook the problem.
Interpol chief Ronald Noble told the conference that counterfeiting is now being used to finance terrorist activities. He cited the seizure last year in Lebanon of $1.2 million dollars worth of counterfeit brake pads and shock absorbers. The profits, he said, were destined for supporters of Hezbollah, which the United States considers a terrorist organization.
Mr. Noble told the gathering that paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland and Colombian Marxist rebels also benefit from sales of fake compact disks and cigarettes.
Interpol calls counterfeiting a low-risk, high profit crime that is not a high priority for most governments and police forces. Counterfeiters, says the agency, face a low risk of prosecution if caught and relatively light penalties if convicted.
The main goal of the Brussels conference was to spur greater cooperation between law enforcement and business in the fight against counterfeiting. But William Dobson, who heads a private sector anti-counterfeiting alliance, says it will not be easy.
?This is a unique area of enforcement, where the legislation and the controls are all in public hands but the knowledge of the products and so on is largely in private ownership, and that's why we need this partnership to come together,? he said.
Mr. Dobson says even though companies are the main victims of counterfeiting, they have often been reluctant to publicize their losses. He says clothing and footwear companies lose $9 billion a year in Europe alone due to counterfeiting. The illegal trade is also responsible for the loss of up to 100,000 European jobs a year.