Plea to jail pair over R17,5m fake goods

Date: 06 Sep 2006
Men in court over bogus household products valued at millions of rands An alleged al-Qaeda operative and a suspected Israeli crime kingpin have been implicated in a multimillion-rand counterfeiting scam operating in Gauteng. Mohammed Hendi and Sirhaan Ghassan appeared in court yesterday, accused of counterfeiting household goods such as Omo, Sunlight Liquid and Dawn lotion valued at R17,5-million. Jordanian Hendi, who is now a South African resident, was accused in parliament in 2004 by National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi of being one of a group of al-Qaeda members in South Africa bent on destabilising the country's 2004 elections. Hendi fought deportation for more than two years, after being arrested along with four other Jordanians in April 2004. Charges against him were later dropped and he was released. Yesterday, however, Hendi and Israeli national Ghassan appeared in the Johannesburg Commercial Crimes Court, accused of counterfeiting Unilever products worth millions of rands. Unilever, one of the country's biggest manufacturers of fast-moving consumer goods, has spent at least six months and more than R2-million trying to put a stop to the illegal counterfeiting of its products. Yesterday, the cases of the two men were separated after Ghassan had pleaded guilty to three counts of contravening the Counterfeiting Goods Act. Earlier this year, The Star reported that counterfeiting cost South Africa's economy at least R2-billion a year and that the crime was escalating because punishment was lenient, with first-time offenders having to pay R3 000 per item and/or three years in prison, and repeat offenders paying R5 000 per item and/or five years in jail. Hendi, who is out on bail, had his case postponed to September 14, when he is expected to plead. During argument for aggravation of sentence for Ghassan yesterday, the court heard how he was a repeat offender who had sold fake goods on the very day he appeared in court on counterfeiting charges. Unilever had paid a private investigation firm more than R2-million to investigate Ghassan, and the court heard he had been caught selling fake goods to a supermarket. State prosecutor Leana Fick said: "Initially he (Ghassan) was caught in possession of 325 counterfeit items and was released on bail. He was again caught manufacturing 14 513 items and on the third count he was caught in possession of 17 870 counterfeit items." She dismissed the defence's plea to the court to give Ghassan a fine of R100 000 and a suspended jail sentence. Instead Fick asked the court to hand Ghassan a jail sentence. The case was postponed to September 14 for a verdict. By Baldwin Ndaba and Nalisha Kalideen The Star 05/09/06