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A massive operation led by police agency Interpol against the trafficking of counterfeited goods across South, Central, and North America indicates the prevalence of this illegal trade across the hemisphere.
Operation Maya involved more than 1,000 separate police actions between March 1 and 15, according to Interpol, and is ongoing. Some 200 people have been arrested and $30 million of products seized, including toys, beauty products, tobacco, and computer programs.
Interpol project manager Roberto Manriquez said that, "Operation Maya again shows that there is no product which is not being counterfeited and criminals are using every means available to traffic fake and illicit goods."
The press release said that the operation had also identified routes that organized criminal groups used to traffic archaeological items, wildlife, and images depicting child pornography.
InSight Crime Analysis
The size of Interpol's operation is an indication of the significance of the counterfeit goods market in the Americas. Global Financial Integrity's report "Transnational Crime in the Developing World" estimated the global market in counterfeited goods to be worth some $90 billion a year, making it the third most profitable illicit market, behind drug trafficking and money laundering.
Interpol noted the sophistication of the counterfeiters' operations, saying that they would smuggle pirated goods into a country through one route, while branding items like logos, labels, and stickers would be sent separately.
There is evidence that drug trafficking organizations in countries including Mexico and Colombia have moved into counterfeiting. Mexico's Familia Michoacana were thought to be involved in software piracy, while Colombia's neo-paramilitaries may be involved in the fake liquor trade.
– Hannah Stone is a writer for Insight – Organized Crime in the Americas, which provides research, analysis, and investigation of the criminal world throughout the region. Find all of her research here.