When London authorities were tipped off about a massive international counterfeiting ring selling knock-off golf clubs, they gave their investigation the codename: Operation Augusta.
Considering the theme and scale of the illegal activities, it’s aptly chosen.
Earlier this week, Gary Bellchambers and eight other defendants were charged in a London court with various crimes, including counterfeiting and conspiracy, for the sale of potentially millions of pounds worth of fake golf equipment on eBay. According to an official of the online company, the case is one of the largest counterfeit-product conspiracies discovered on its Web site.
British prosecutor Adam Davis told UK’s times.online: “Conspirators are thought to have been based in the UK, Thailand, Australia, Germany, Singapore, USA, Hong Kong, China – and goods have been distributed from, or to, all those countries and more.
“This is a conspiracy of a truly global nature,” he said of the criminal activity that began in mid-2003. Davis added “nearly every major golf brand has been affected.” The fake goods – manufactured in China and then shipped to England – featured signs identical to, or likely to be mistaken for, registered trademarks.
The counterfeiting ring was dismantled, in part, thanks to an assist from Acushnet Co., which owns the Titleist, FootJoy and Cobra brands. The company, along with other premium golf brands, long have been battling counterfeiters.
In 2006, Acushnet detected several sellers located in the London borough of Havering on eBay, conducted its own investigation and informed local authorities. That effort, along with a consumer complaint, led to the discovery of the illegal network that spanned far beyond UK borders.
It was not immediately clear how many of the counterfeiters’ fake products were purchased by U.S. consumers. Nor was it known how many of the ring’s operatives, if any, were working in the U.S.
“This is an historic case not only for the golf manufacturers, but for all brand owners who must combat the increasing global problem of online counterfeit products,” said Lisa Rogan, Acushnet Co.’s trademark manager.
Mike Rider, Callaway Golf’s general counsel, echoed concerns about such fraudulent sales. In an e-mail he wrote:
“Based on our experience, we believe it is safe to estimate that sales of counterfeit golf equipment are at least $4 billion to $6 billion. . . . Our estimate is based on the fact that in 1999 the golf industry and U.S. Customs estimated that the sale of counterfeit golf clubs ranged from $2 billion to $4 billion dollars and that over the last ten years the problem has gotten much worse with the advent of sales on Internet auction sites and has expanded to include sales of counterfeit golf balls, apparel and accessories.
“Our estimate is also consistent with U.S. Customs’ assessment that the value and number of counterfeit goods seized generally has doubled over the last few years.”