Counterfeit designer clothing is a trillion dollar business that relies on consumers’ thirst for bargain shopping to line the pockets of terrorists, drug dealers, and human traffickers.
On the morning of January 7, 2015, two masked gunmen—brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi—entered the office of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo on Rue Nicolas-Appert in Paris. They had come to seek vengeance on the Charlie Hebdo staff for publishing cartoons that the brothers believed disparaged Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. By the time their rampage had ended that day, they had killed 12 people, including two police officers and a building maintenance worker, and injured nearly a dozen more. The brothers, it would later be determined, were acting on behalf of Al Qaeda in Yemen. Their weapons cache reportedly included assault rifles, machine guns, pistols, a shotgun, and a grenade launcher. The source of the brothers’ rage—the radicalization of ostracized Muslim youth—is one of the most uncontrollable problems in geopolitics today. The source of their arsenal, however, is more straightforward; in fact, if you shopped in Paris in the months leading up to the attacks, you may have even contributed to their weapons purchase.
As Bruce Foucart, director of U.S. Homeland Security’s National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, tells Complex, Cherif Kouachi funded his cache through the sale of counterfeit luxury goods on the streets of Paris.
“That’s a direct link,” Foucart says. “The sale of counterfeit goods went into buying these guns.”
The manufacturing, importing, and selling of counterfeit apparel and accessories—fake designer clothes, sneakers, bags, sunglasses, watches, and other items passed off as the real thing—is a staggeringly complex industry, encompassing a dizzying global network of suppliers, distributors, and sellers.