Published On: Sat, Oct 26th, 2019

‘St. Maarten is a free port for counterfeit goods’

Vendors back at Philipsburg Marketplace - 20180105 HH

PHILIPSBURG — Knockoffs of popular brands, including Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel, are being sold on the market in Philipsburg, in stores in Backstreet and Frontstreet, and online to customers on the island. “St. Maarten is a free port and transit port for counterfeits,” says lawyer Wiek Herben, who represents Louis Vuitton. The loss in retail value amounts to tens of millions of dollars.

Louis Vuitton products holds the top spot in luxury goods being counterfeited. Herben, partner at Liance Law firm in Curaçao, took steps against different business owners and market vendors on St. Maarten on behalf of Disosa Brand Protection Services Ltd. In June of this year, and also earlier this month, the St. Maarten police force KPSM, along with representatives of Liance Law, the Ramazan bailiff’s office, and a representative of Disosa Brand Protection Services, raided the market in Philipsburg. “Shortly after new counterfeits were placed on offer again,” says Herben. “Our firm will continue to seize products, go after individuals and seize their bank accounts.”

It is not just about spotting a fake, Herben emphasizes. “The sale of counterfeit goods is bigger than weapons smuggling and human trafficking, doubling even drug trade in total global worth.” In 2011 the International Chamber of Commerce reported that the global economic and social impacts of counterfeiting and piracy would reach $1.7 trillion by 2015. According to a report released by the UN, almost 65 percent of all counterfeits seized globally come from China.

The underground criminal business of importing and exporting illegitimate goods is giving St. Maarten a bad name, but the Government does not take action to stop this trade, says Herben. “We know that most trading takes place online, with locals and tourists as customers, and with goods being shipped to neighboring islands. Brands will go after those responsible.”

With an established legal department and an annual budget of €15 million earmarked for counterfeiting matters, the French brand Luis Vuitton never withholds from protecting its goods against unauthorized users. The Commercial Court of Paris ordered eBay to pay €38.6 million in damages to Louis Vuitton, saying eBay had done too little to stop the sale of counterfeit goods over the internet.

Currently the group SXM Buy, Sell and Trade on Facebook offers counterfeit Luis Vuitton, Gucci, Chanel, Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger handbags, sneakers, ladies heels and wallets. The seller offers a Louis Vuitton bag and matching sneakers for $175, whereas the price of the authentic set is tenfold. The post also calls for local resellers of the fakes, referring interested parties to a website that requires a $25 deposit to subscribe and promises to bring the reseller into contact with factories abroad.

Counterfeiting has a low prioritization in law enforcement. “But this illegitimate trade is big business with far-reaching social and economic impacts,” says Herben. Government action is one crucial part of the effort to reduce counterfeiting, according to the lawyer.