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Busted: 20 factories selling counterfeit masks, sanitisers in UAE

The surge in demand for hygiene products has led to a flurry of criminal activities

Hatem Ghani addresses the Intellectual Property and Brand Protection Training workshop organised by The Legal Group Advocates and Legal Consultants, in Dubai on Sunday.
Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The coronavirus pandemic has come as a windfall for counterfeiters! The surge in demand for personal protection and hygiene products has led to a flurry of illegal activities involving their counterfeiting in the UAE, the head of a law firm told Gulf News on the sidelines of the annual ‘Intellectual Property and Brand Protection Training’ workshop held in Dubai on Sunday.

“Nearly 20 factories selling substandard face masks, disinfectants and hand sanitisers have been busted in the UAE since the outbreak of the virus,” said Hatem Ghani, director at the intellectual property department at The Legal Group Advocates and Legal Consultants, which organised the workshop and which was attended by customs and police officials as well as representatives of top international brands.

Hatem said the counterfeiters were using the pandemic to exploit huge spikes in demand for pharmaceutical products such as masks and sanitisers.

“We carried out raids in Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwain with the help of local authorities and seized tens of thousands of these counterfeit products. During a raid conducted in Dubai, in coordination with Dubai Economic Department (DED), we confiscated 2,000 boxes of fake N95 masks. Each box had 120 respirators. In Ras Al Khaimah, we found a factory that manufactured fake cleaning products and clandestinely operated out of a farm. At another manufacturing plant, we seized counterfeit sanitisers,” recalled Hatem. “A hand sanitiser must have 70 per cent of isopropyl alcohol to be effective, but some of these solutions barely have 20 per cent,” he added.

Health authorities have repeatedly cautioned about the dangers of counterfeit sanitisers. Those with highly toxic methanol can cause permanent blindness and even death if ingested, USA’s Federal Drug Authority (FDA) had warned earlier this year.


Hatem said the counterfeiters arrested during the raids have been referred to public prosecutors. “Counterfeiting of medical products poses as a double threat as there is an element of threat to human lives. Those found guilty should get stiff punishment,” he said.

Hatem said the workshop aimed at helping law enforcers tell a fake product from a real one beside keeping them informed about latest counterfeiting techniques.

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Operation Pangea

In the same week when the World Health Organisation declared coronavirus a pandemic this March, Operation Pangea, Interpol’s global pharmaceutical crime fighting unit, made 121 arrests across 90 countries, resulting in the seizure of dangerous pharmaceuticals worth more than $14 millions (Dh51.49 millions). Tens of thousands of counterfeit face masks and fake medicines were confiscated during the week-long crackdown. Law enforcement agencies taking part in Operation Pangea also found 2,000 online links, advertising items related to COVID-19.