A former trader in Salford has received a suspended jail sentence and ordered to pay £125k after 55,000 counterfeit items were seized by local authorities.
Suraj Singhwas given a 12-month jail sentence, suspended for two years, at Manchester Crown Court on Tuesday 28 November, after more than 55,000 counterfeit items were seized from Justt Vape Ltd of Overbridge Road, Broughton. He was also ordered to pay £125,259.09 under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
Singh pleaded guilty to 22 offences at an earlier hearing in September 2021, which were 14 offences for breach of registered trademarks under the TradeMarks Act 1994, two offences for breach of copyright under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and six offences for the supply of unsafe products under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005, committed by the company of which he was as sole director.
The investigation began when Trading Standards officers from Salford City Council were alerted by complaints about a counterfeit Vampire Empire vape e-liquid. They visited the company on 21 November 2019 with police and brand representatives and seized over 15,000 e-liquids which were later confirmed to be infringing trademark and copyright legislation.
One of the products seized used a genie logo which was identical to Disney’s genie in the film Aladdin. This was used without consent from Walt Disney Ltd. Singh told officers during the raid on 21 November that he had Googled the image of the genie that had been used on his products.
On 4 December 2019, Trading Standards officers revisited and seized more products, including more counterfeit Vampire Empire e-liquids, counterfeit Heisenberg flavour e-liquids and Justt Vape e-liquids which were branded with the genie logo.
During an interview, Singh said the manufacturers added the vampire logo to his products and that it was not the same as the trademarked version because it had an eye patch, and the name of the product was different. He claimed they also added the genie image without his knowledge and that it was not his brand logo despite the fact that it was displayed on his company invoices, marketing materials and on the shop front.
Additional evidence came to light when boxes of e-liquid with Justtvape business details on were discovered at the premises with instructions to the manufacturer mistakenly printed on the outer packaging, which said:
“On the outer box pls … make the justtvape name bigger in golden writing, make Jinny picture on all sides of outer box and make it bigger. This is the requirement from the customer, he wants to finalise it today to start the production as soon as possible. He needs the delivery as soon as possible.”
In March 2020 the company was still using the genie image as its logo and on the shop sign.
Singh said he did not carry out any checks on the products when they arrived to make sure that they were legal to sell in the UK as he had delegated that to someone else. He failed to provide invoices and details of his suppliers, including the manufacturers of the Justt Vape branded products.
On 29 June 2020, Trading Standards officers visited the premises once again and seized more than 40,000 counterfeit e-liquids, 85.7 litres of non-compliant hand sanitiser and 94 bottles of counterfeit Comfort and Andrex hand sanitiser.
Samples of the seized hand sanitisers were submitted for safety testing, with all samples found to be non-compliant with safety regulations and a number of samples were confirmed to be hazardous to health as methanol was present in the samples. Methanol poisoning which can occur through skin contact can cause nausea, vomiting, headaches, blurred vision, blindness and permanent damage to the nervous system.
Councillor Barbara Bentham, lead member for Environment Neighbourhoods and Community Safety, said: “I want to thank the Trading Standards team for their hard work in bringing this case to court.
“Mr Singh demonstrated a complete disregard for consumer safety and the law relating to copyright and trademarks and the court has recognised this with the sentence imposed. The laws are there to protect people and legitimate businesses and we will not hesitate to take action and seek to recover the proceeds of crime against serious offending.”