A crime against fashion

Man who faked Hermès bags gets life sentence in prison


07 Sep 2012
Week in China

An original Hermès Birkin bag can cost upwards of $7,000, but on the lower floor at Beijing’s Silk Market a fake can be acquired for about 1% of that price tag.

Week in China has been told that if you tell the sales assistant you would like to purchase the better quality stuff you will be led down to the car park and shown a photo album.

After you have selected the item that you want, the girl makes a phone call. About 10 minutes later someone comes running in with your “replica” bag.

A quick inspection and cash changes hands. Apparently a good copy will set you back about $200.

But all this could soon be a thing of the past if China’s judicial system decides to uphold the life sentence handed down to Xiao Zhenjiang, a Hermès bag counterfeiter, last month. Two factories set up by Xiao in the southern province of Guangdong were found to contain copies of Hermès goods with a production value of over Rmb100 million ($15.7 million), a statement posted on the Heyuan People’s Intermediate Court website said.

Three other men involved in the production of the bags were sentenced to 10 years each, according to reports.

The harsh sentences put the French luxury brand in a difficult position. On the one hand it is keen to stamp out the problem of fake or ‘replica’ bags – 80% of which come from China. But as a brand it may also have reservations being seen to support such draconian punishment.

Attempts by the Wall Street Journal to elicit an official response from the company were unsuccessful. But netizens reacted with anger, saying the sentence did not match the crime.

“You can get 15 years for raping a child but life for making handbags. Where is the justice?” asked one.

Certainly, the sentence is a lengthy one. Legal observers say that the average term for counterfeiters is three to seven years in prison, with the harshest punishment doled out for pharmaceutical and health-related counterfeiting.

But others suggested that the real reason for the severe sentencing was that Chinese officials – or more likely their wives or mistresses – had been stung by a recent scam in which high-quality Hermès fakes were passed off as real bags (apparently the fraudster used receipts from Hong Kong stores as part of the con).

Earlier this year police in France busted a “sophisticated counterfeit Hermès bag syndicate” involving former company employees. Hermès shops in China were then inundated with requests to authenticate customers’ bags after the announcement. But Hermès said its staff weren’t trained to do so – possibly because it didn’t want information about its “secret markings” getting out to the fakers. Still, as things stand, at least one counterfeiter won’t be making handbags again for the rest of his life ...

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