Ex-Hermes staff convicted in France for fake handbags

The network targeted Asian tourists in Paris and clients in Hong Kong.
The network targeted Asian tourists in Paris and clients in Hong Kong.ST FILE PHOTO

PARIS (AFP) - A Paris court on Thursday (Sept 24) convicted 10 people, including seven former staff of French luxury house Hermes, for making and selling fake handbags under its coveted Birkin brand.

They were handed sentences ranging from six months suspended jail to three years with one year suspended.

The highest sentence went to a man considered to be a ringleader, who was also fined €200,000 (S$320,000).

He was tried in absentia however, and is still the target of an arrest warrant.

Another ringleader was given an effective one-year sentence, to be served under house arrest, with two more years suspended and a fine of €100,000.

A woman who was convicted of selling the bags to Asian buyers was given a 30-month sentence with 20 months suspended.

Her 10 months will also be served under house arrest.

The network, which targeted Asian tourists in Paris but also clients in Hong Kong in 2013 and 2014, was uncovered when French police wiretapped the home of a man suspected of selling stolen handbags in Asia.

An inquiry uncovered a clandestine operation in which the suspects at their homes crafted dozens of counterfeit "Birkin" bags, the most coveted - and profitable - item produced by Hermes.

Named for French-British actress Jane Birkin, the bags have long waiting lists for customers ready to pay €40,000 or more for versions made with crocodile skin.

Prosecutors said the gang took in about two million euros a year by selling the fakes for between €20,000 and €30,000 each.

The Hermes workers would make the bags with crocodile skins from an Italian supplier, using zippers and other components smuggled out of Hermes workshops.