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Monday, November 01, 2004
2 London DVD Pirates Banged Up

Two men have been jailed for running one of the country's biggest-ever pirate DVD racket in Walthamstow.

Aircraft engineer Sidney Austin, 47, and importer Dino Simm, 30, were sentenced to four years and three years respectively at Snaresbrook Crown Court on Friday.

They sold at least 400,000 counterfeit DVDs worth more than 2.5 million in Walthamstow Market, and across the South East, over the last two-and-a-half years. They brought the fake DVDs in from Malaysia and sold them at about 8 each.

Waltham Forest Trading Standards and council officials were involved in a two-year operation to bust the scam.

They seized about 50,000 fake DVDs, computers, documents and thousands of pounds in cash from safe houses in Billet Road, Walthamstow, and Leyton High Road. Popular film titles and illegal hardcore porn movies were among the find.

Speaking exclusively to the Guardian this week, Cllr Barry Smith said he was delighted that the borough's authorities had been involved in quashing such a big counterfeiting ring.

The community safety portfolio holder was out in Selborne Walk Shopping Centre, Walthamstow, on Friday with trading standards officers warning residents about buying goods from similar fraudsters.

He said: "There was a great amount of interest from people in hearing the stories behind the counterfeiting gangs.

"Most people look for a bargain but people don't understand what's going on in the background. Money from the sale of DVDs is often used to fund organised crime, drugs and guns.

"It's our aspiration to get rid of these people from Waltham Forest but also to work with neighbouring boroughs to make sure we don't just disperse the crime."

The Government's Asset Recovery Agency is now hoping to seize hundreds of thousands of pounds profit the two men made with the fraud using new laws.

Austin, of Waltham Abbey, and Simm, of Bermondsey, are believed to have hidden cash in numerous bank accounts in the far east. Any proceeds from their criminal lifestyle could be confiscated, including homes and cars.

Futher undercover investigations are now being undertaken in recognised "hotspots" across the borough. Trading standards officers are confident of more prosecutions and said that reports of counterfeiting had dropped recently.

Garry Seal, commercial group manager, said: "We have some great officers and it's very much a team thing.

"It's hard to catch the criminals but we are working in co-operation with other bodies like Customs and the asset recovery agency to get more information."

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