Paris prosecutors sought prison terms Friday
for the leaders of a ring accused of making and selling fake handbags from
iconic French luxury house Hermes, including some former employees.
The network, which targeted Asian tourists in Paris but also clients in
Hong Kong in 2013 and 2014, was uncovered when French police wiretapped the
home of a man suspected of selling stolen handbags in Asia.
An inquiry uncovered a clandestine operation in which the suspects at their
homes allegedly crafted dozens of counterfeit “Birkin” bags, the most coveted
— and profitable — item produced by Hermes.
Named for French-British actress Jane Birkin, the bags have long waiting
lists for customers ready to pay 40,000 euros (45,000 dollars) or more for versions
made with crocodile skin.
Ten people went on trial this week, including seven former Hermes
Prosecutors said they took in around two million euros a year by selling
the fakes for 20,000 euros to 30,000 euros each.
The Hermes workers would make the bags with crocodile skins from an Italian
supplier, using zippers and other components smuggled out of Hermes workshops.
A woman now aged 52, born in Cambodia but living in France since 1980, was
tasked with selling the fake bags as well as genuine “Birkins” resold to
clients at a markup.
She told investigators her clients knew that they were buying fakes, the
court heard this week.
One of the employees, accused of orchestrating the counterfeiting ring, was
just 18 when he began working at Hermes.
“At the time, I didn’t realise the seriousness of this,” the now
45-year-old told the court.
As the trial wound up Friday, prosecutors sought prison terms of up to four
years and fines of 100,000 euros to 200,000 euros for the three ringleaders,
and suspended sentences and fines for the others.
Hermes’ lawyers have also asked for two million euros in damages. The court
is expected to announce a date for its ruling later Friday.(AFP)