Fake DVDs 'fund' people smuggling
By Jon Hunt
Investigative reporter, BBC News
September 30, 2007
Fake DVDs sold at Kent markets are helping to fund illegal immigration and people smuggling.
A BBC South East undercover team worked for a year investigating the exploitation behind the Chinese counterfeiting trade in Britain.
A reporter infiltrated a squalid home where a number of illegal immigrants lived and found widespread breaches of immigration law.
The team also found links to He Jia-Jin, the former vice president of the London Chinatown Chinese Association, who is due to stand trial in Hong Kong accused of money laundering offences.
Counterfeit DVDs were openly sold at a weekly car boot fair at Swanley, which is close to the M25 in Kent.
'Snakeheads smuggled me'
More than 30 illegal traders used the site each Sunday to sell the fake films, according to the investigation team.
The organisers of the fair told them they did not pay pitch fees and they had tried to have them evicted.
BBC South East Today also discovered that the man who transported the pirate DVD sellers to boot fairs, Chun Lin, was also an employee of Mr He.
The car was followed to a house in Plumstead, south-east London, where an illegal immigrant called Liu, Li-Wan, who has been prosecuted for three counterfeiting offences, told BBC South East Today that he owed 5,000 to a 'snakehead' Chinese human trafficking gang.
“I have no job, and no food so this is the only way I can support myself. Snakeheads smuggled me here.”
He said he came to Britain fearing persecution in China, his family helped him pay the snakeheads their 15,000 fee, and the DVDs fund his repayments.
The surveillance operation also found that a property owned by Mr He was being used as an illegal home of multiple occupancy.
The house in Canterbury Place, near Elephant and Castle, south London, was filled with Chinese migrants, some of whom had questionable immigration status.
A Freedom of Information request revealed that Southwark Council had written to Mr He as early as 2001 to tell him there had been reports of overcrowding.
It showed that they raised concerns about fire alarms and fire doors and stated there was evidence that tenants were living in cupboard spaces.
Council officers also wrote to the Home Office suggesting suspicions of immigration offences there.
Money laundering offences
Mr He is due to stand trial in Hong Kong on 2 October accused of money laundering offences.
According to the court papers, a banking mistake meant he was credited with more than 400,000 that did not belong to him.
The prosecution accuses him of transferring that money into a series of other accounts, in the knowledge that it was not his to use.
He has denied any wrongdoing.
In 1999 a Greek court convicted Mr He of attempted fraud in a case thought to be linked to people smuggling.
Two years later he was arrested by the National Crime Squad as part of a people smuggling investigation. He was released without charge.
The Assets Recovery Agency is currently trying to seize 1.5m of assets belonging to Mr He under the proceeds of crime act.
It claims he has laundered money – a charge he has denied.
Paying your debts
Richard Strawson, of Kent Trading Standards, said the DVDs may come at a fraction of the price of the genuine product but they were of inferior quality and there was a hidden cost.
He added: “People just see it as a bargain. They see the DVD before it goes to cinema but unfortunately there are problems. There have been known links to organised crime and we believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
It is thought that crackdowns on illegal working have forced people into the counterfeit DVD trade.
“When you've got sacked by your employer… you still need to pay your debts to the snakeheads and, you know, a lot of them still have a large amount of money they need to pay back,” lawyer and civil rights campaigner Bobby Chan said.
'Without his knowledge'
Kent Police Det Insp Steve O'Keefe said: “The scale of the problem hasn't changed. Currently we're managing 12 live operations into people smuggling.
“Over the past five years we've executed 28 search warrants in an attempt to rescue victims of trafficking, and we've managed to identify and rescue 26 women.”
Mr He declined BBC South East's requests for an interview but during a telephone conversation he said he did not know his employee was involved in counterfeiting, and he would not employ someone who did that.
Mr He said he rented 68 Canterbury Place to four people who let more and more people stay without his knowledge.
He said when he realised it had become overcrowded he issued a warning and then kicked them out.
Chun Lin, who repeatedly drove the DVD sellers to and from boot fairs in Kent, said he did not know his passengers were counterfeiters and was only responding to their requests for a lift.