When trading standards officers raided the premises it was stuffed to the rafters with hooky goods. There were 10,000 counterfeit vaping liquids, 9,000 fake Apple phone accessories, and 800 dangerous Christmas fairy lights, some with bare wires exposed and two pin, unearthed plugs, and 400 counterfeit games and toys.
An investigation had been triggered after a customer suffered an electric shock from fairy lights he had bought. In total 24,000 non-compliant items were seized from Aulola UK Ltd, based in Broughton Lane, Salford, over ten months.
At court a representative of the firm suggested they should get a formal caution -instead they have been hit with a £46,500 fine for putting consumers at risk, and goods worth a quarter of a million pounds seized.
The company operated as an importer, producer, distributor and a fulfillment house. Magistrates were told that the company, which claimed it was just a fulfilment house, distributing goods on behalf of other businesses, did not know what it was distributing, failed in its legal responsibilities to ensure the goods were legal and safe and negligent when it came to public safety.
A company representative suggested the firm should be offered a formal caution to avoid the risk of the company going into bankruptcy. They said the company would ‘galvanise’ itself into more strict due diligence, and change the business model to comply with the law and protect consumer safety.
At Manchester and Salford Magistrates court, a representative of the company pleaded guilty to 18 offenses relating to two offenses of applying trade marks without consent and eight offenses for possessing counterfeit goods, contrary to the Trade Marks Act 1994. The company was also found guilty of eight offenses of placing unsafe electrical equipment on the market contrary to the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 2016.
The company was fined £46,500 and was also ordered to pay £9,400 costs and a £190 victim surcharge. Forfeiture orders were made on all the goods seized – estimated to be worth around £270,000.
The court heard that trading standards officers, police, HMRC officials and brand representatives visited the company’s premises on December, 16, 2019. This followed complaints that a customer had received an electric shock from unsafe Christmas lights, and a cease and desist letter to the company from another firm regarding counterfeit products.
Suspected counterfeit items were seized from the e-liquid shop and storage area where staff were fulfilling orders. Officers had to open the packages to find out what was inside and were told the goods arrived from China in that format.
On Christmas Eve the officers returned and seized more non-compliant products, suspected of infringing registered designs. On January 30th 2020 officers visited again regarding counterfeit tobacco flavored products. The company had ceased to sell several brands and no further action was taken.
The LED lights seized in December 2019 failed safety testing and e-liquid and Apple products seized breached registered trade marks. LED lights were still listed for sale on the company website in October 2020, though the company told trading standards officers they no longer sold them and the website needed updating.
On October 8, officers attended the premises and seized unsafe and counterfeit UL LED lights. UL is a global safety certification company. Unsafe travel adapters and other counterfeit items, some of which were similar to those seized in December 2019, were also seized.
During interviews company representative Ms Leah Zhao said the company did not know what products they were sent from China, could not explain the links between the company and firms in China and provided test certificates said to be related to some of the seized products. Officers were unable to see a direct link between the certificates provided and products seized.
Speaking after the case Councillor David Lancaster, lead member for environment and community safety, at Salford City Council, said: “This is one of the biggest fines we have seen handed to a company we have prosecuted for illegal and unsafe trading and I very much welcome it I hope it sends a clear message that those who peddle counterfeit and unsafe items and put profit before safety will not be tolerated in Salford.”
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.