Thirteen people were arrested and counterfeit goods valued at more than R650 000 were seized at the India trade fair at Sahara Kingsmead Stadium on Wednesday in a joint raid by Sars, police crime intelligence and Home Affairs officials.
The fair has been hosted by the Phoenix Child and Family Welfare Society for the past eight years.
According to Heinrich Botha, an intellectual property investigator (counterfeits) for Sars, many of the stall holders with counterfeit goods were not South Africans and an identity verification process had to take place.
The swoop started at 11.30am and by midday counterfeit goods including falsely branded handbags, purses, clothes, skin-lightening creams and cellphone covers had been seized.
“We reacted on a tip-off that a container filled with counterfeit goods had been offloaded here on Tuesday,” Botha said.
He said they had also received information that counterfeit Blackberry Bold cellphones were on the market and selling for R3 600.
Of the 13 arrested, some faced charges of dealing in counterfeit good, Botha said. Others would be charged for being in the country illegally.
One trader said of the raid: “They immediately closed the fair and locked all the traders in. We were interrogated about who invited us to the country, how we came in, whether we were selling or exhibiting goods and how long we have been in the country for.”
While officials went about their business, an angry patron – turned away at the gate – screamed that they should have intercepted these goods at the harbour instead of inconveniencing her shopping.
Sharm Maharaj, president of the Phoenix Child and Family Welfare Society, described the raid as unnecessary.
He said they were engaged in a legal deal with a company called Fame India – headed by Mumbai businessman Baba Singh. The entire deal was legitimate, he said.
The society benefited up to R70 000 annually from entry ticket sales.
“The money helps towards funding our shelters, HIV/Aids programmes and poverty alleviation programmes.
“This is a legal transaction and the paperwork for the fair is in order. If there are any illegal dealings, the offenders must be brought to book.”
Maharaj said all the relevant paperwork, including visas and passports, was handed to the authorities on Wednesday, and after midday the fair was reopened. He denied that any goods were seized or that anyone had been arrested.
“This raid was orchestrated by the local businesses, who are under pressure because of these fairs. The bottom line is they must stop exploiting the public. They must be more competitive.
“Also, there is no way they will pump that kind of money into the society. And, this is much-needed money. It is for the communities that need it desperately.”
Head of the SA Traders Association Ragnish Singh welcomed Wednesday’s raid.
“This is the first time in years that something has been done. These fairs are killing our businesses.”
He said that since their inception, the fairs had affected their annual turnover by almost 30 percent.
“According to our investigations, the annual turnover for these fairs is about R250 million a year. The sad reality is that the bulk of this money does not stay in our country.”
After initially selling only eastern garments, the fairs had now expanded to include furniture, jewellery, electronic equipment, cellphones and falsely branded accessories and clothing, he said.