Jail term after huge poisonous jewellery bust
A foreign student arrested after Wandsworth Trading Standards made “one of the UK ’s largest counterfeit jewellery seizures” has been jailed.
Zhanhong Zheng, who amassed a £3m haul of fake jewellery, pens, sunglasses, and handbags, prompted a public health alert last year after it emerged he was selling jewellery and cufflinks containing high levels of poisonous nickel.
The 25-year-old was arrested following a major investigation by Wandsworth Council's Trading Standards Officers - and subsequent tests on pieces of fake designer jewellery he was selling revealed levels of nickel up to 28 times higher than health and safety laws allow.
His counterfeit goods, which he claimed to be genuine products from brands such as Chanel, Rolex, Dior, Gucci and Swarovski, were being stored and distributed from a storage unit in Battersea and being sold at markets in Wandsworth, Kempton Park , Bovingdon, Wembley and Dagenham.
They were also sold on the internet and from stalls in shopping centres in the south east. Zheng even set up a website and registered his own trademark - Franz Loussica jewellery - as a front to disguise his counterfeiting operation.
Trading Standards' extensive investigation was carried out in partnership with registered trade mark holders and involved a large number of test purchases being made at markets across the south east region.
Zheng was brought to justice in November 2010 when the borough's Trading Standards Officers, with support from police, launched raids on the Battersea storage unit and at a house in Draycott Court , Battersea.
In total more than 9,000 items of designer counterfeit goods were seized with a retail value in excess of £3m. Officers believe Zheng, who came to the UK from China in 2003 on a post study work visa, had been running the racket for at least two years.
Wandsworth Council's cabinet member for environment, culture and community safety, Councillor Jonathan Cook, said: "This was one of the largest seizures of counterfeit goods carried out by Trading Standards Officers in the UK terms of the value of the goods seized, and was certainly the biggest ever in Wandsworth.
"It was a sophisticated and organised operation and demonstrates the dangers of buying counterfeit goods. I would warn consumers to be on their guard whilst doing their Christmas shopping and to be very careful about buying luxury goods and jewellery from anywhere other than reputable trade outlets.
"Not only were these goods poor value for money, but they were positively dangerous. Samples of the jewellery were tested at the Birmingham Assay Office and were found to have 28 times the legal limit of nickel in them.
"The council has appointed a financial investigator to trace all the money Zheng has made from his illegal operations and we will be seeking an order to recover this money under the Proceeds of Crime Act."
Zheng, of Draycott Court , Battersea, was given an 18 month prison sentence at Kingston Crown Court on November 3.
He had previously pleaded guilty to 15 counts under the Trade Marks Act 1994 for unauthorised use of a trade mark and one count under the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008 for placing on the market articles of jewellery that exceed the limit of nickel release set down in the regulations.
Nickel poisoning can cause cancer and in extreme cases can be fatal. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, headache, coughing and shortness of breath.
The judge ordered all the goods seized to be forfeited - and will now be destroyed. Most of the jewellery bore false hallmarks and tests commissioned indicated it was in fact gold or silver plated brass.