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Forensic expertise thwarts the counterfeiters

Malaysian Customs Officers examining one of six containers of counterfeit product seized as a result of information passed on by Imperial’s Group Security Asia Pacific team.

Our Forensic Analysts catalogue all individual seizures of counterfeit product in order to identify and ‘finger-print’ counterfeit-producing machines and to maintain a record of illegal productivity and capacity.  

The collation and assessment of seized product by location also allows us to build an understanding of where in the world a specific machine may be operational. This, in turn, may lead to a focused intelligence project, most commonly in consultation with national law enforcement agencies.

Counterfeit machine ‘L1A1’ was first designated in May 2019, following a seizure of more than 18,000 sticks of Imperial branded (counterfeit) JPS Red in Germany. In the months that followed, an increasing number of seizures of both JPS Red and Blue were attributed to L1A1. 

These seizures clearly indicated that the UK was considered the target destination market, but seizures in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, usually of lesser quantities and coupled with intelligence, led us to believe that the machine itself was most likely to be in the Netherlands.

This assessment changed drastically when a separate Imperial project in Asia Pacific led to the seizure of six containers in Malaysia, carrying 62.5 million counterfeit JPS Red and Blue. Forensic analysis of the contents attributed production to L1A1.

Scrutiny of documents associated with the shipment, in cooperation with national authorities, identified the most probable source of manufacture as being a factory in Indonesia. Prompt action from the Indonesian authorities led to a raid on the factory and the discovery of more counterfeit JPS product, as well as packaging and other non-tobacco materials.

Records found at the factory showed that 36 containers of counterfeit product had been shipped to Antwerp over the preceding two years – indicating that as many as 360 million illicit cigarettes had hit European markets, significantly harming the livelihood of legitimate retailers and depriving governments of excise revenue. To date, a total of 174.2 million sticks of counterfeit JPS produced using the machine have been seized.