NEWS

Greece goes on the hunt for bogus Olympics souvenirs

Athens Olympics organizers (ATHOC) and Greek police are cracking down on the growing industry of counterfeit Olympic souvenirs. Since Sunday, a special squad of six ATHOC employees posing as buyers have been patrolling Athens’s streets, hunting for unauthorized 2004 products. «We want the counterfeiters to panic and our commercial partners and shoppers to feel secure,» George Bolos, ATHOC’s general marketing director, told AFP. Fake Olympics memorabilia pose a threat to the Games’ finances. ATHOC has signed 19 licensing agreements with Greek companies to produce so-called «Olympic products,» mostly T-shirts, pins and shorts, bearing famous Olympic insignia such as the five rings. Under the terms of the deals, organizers’ revenue slice is set at 10 percent of products’ total sales, estimated to reach 770 million euros. The lion’s share – 147.3 million euros – is forecast to come from sports clothes such as shorts, T-shirts and trainers. Next come pins – 123.6 million, caps and hats (101.5 million) and jewelry (52.8 million). Despite the fact that each product bears special anti-counterfeit features, such as hologram-like labels, the number of copycat souvenirs is set to rise, Bolos said. Counterfeit products, from CDs to cigarettes, are thriving in Greece. But organizers are determined to hit hard against everyone aiming to turn a quick and easy buck at ATHOC’s expense. «We’ll show no mercy, no pity,» Bolos said, adding menacingly: «Those who play with fire will have some unpleasant surprises.» These are not empty words. In what has been the biggest strike against counterfeiting since Olympic products were launched, Greece’s Financial Crimes Squad (SDOE), working closely with ATHOC, swooped down on imitators in mid-May. Some 13,500 fakes were seized in an Athens warehouse run by a Chinese citizen who now faces charges. Objects confiscated were mainly T-shirts, trainers and shorts; copycat dolls of Phevos and Athina, the Games’ mascots; and fake olive branches – the equivalent of athletes’ medals in ancient Greece. According to SDOE, the clothes were made in China, the world’s largest counterfeiter. They crossed European Union customs in Italy and reached Greece effortlessly, as both countries are part of the continent’s single-market zone. «There’s nothing we can do in China, but we asked for Greece’s Finance Ministry support to make EU customs officials sensitive to the issue,» Bolos said. «We need cross-European cooperation. We’ve already received a tip-off from another country, but it was a false alarm.» As the Games, set for August 2004, draw closer, SDOE will intensify inspections, pledged Andreas Bourboulas, the fraudbusters’ head for special inquiries. «I’m absolutely optimistic. We’ll net 95 percent of all counterfeit Olympic products,» said Bolos, pointing to SDOE’s operational plan to cast dragnets over Greece’s main cities and the country’s main tourist resorts. «ATHOC will provide us with information from its authorized partners. Then we’ll send inspectors on the spot to trace the networks,» a high-ranking SDOE official said.