Tuesday, 28 September 2010

confiscation confusion

Counterfeiting and confiscation
While some members of Afro-IP can spend every Friday in a different African country, others have to be satisfied with reading the travel supplements. This member always enjoys the (usually enraged) readers’ letters in the Saturday Star, and two of last week’s letters dealt with customs authorities at OR Tambo Airport. Both writers had their bags searched, and one had a number of handbags bought in Singapore confiscated. Most unusually, a reponse to her complaint was received from SARS, (SAA and ACSA are seldom heard from) who stated that the writer had attempted to import counterfeit leather handbags and that ‘Customs has every right to confiscate counterfeit goods and destroy them in terms of the law.’ It continues ‘People who buy counterfeit goods should not complain when goods are seized by Customs as SARS has a legal duty to protect our borders and our economy from the trade in illicit goods.’ All good and well. But the Counterfeit Goods Act 37 of 1997 only prohibits dealing in such goods, and specifically excludes goods that are ‘imported or exported for the private and domestic use of the importer or exporter’ (s 2(1)(f).
I do not venture an opinion on the morality or correctness of buying counterfeit goods here (for a fascinating discussion, see this article in the October JIPLP here). But it is not an offence to buy such goods, and if there is not clarity as to whether the goods are for personal use or for trade, I think that better control of the confiscated goods is necessary. (The letter writer says that when she tried to find her goods, she was told that they were lost, as was her case number!)

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