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YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Twelve people — including two officers’ wives — are under investigation by Korean customs officials for allegedly bringing counterfeit Rolex watches and Louis Vuitton bags into the country, officials said this week.

Customs agents stopped the group Sept. 2 at Inchon International Airport, after they returned from China, said Kim Bum-jun, public information officer for the Korea Customs Service.

People who violate Korean customs laws could face fines or jail time, Hyun S. Kim, a U.S. Forces Korea attorney, said in a written answer to questions from Stars and Stripes.

The group was questioned at the airport and released, said Moon Mi-ho of the airport’s customs public relations office. The group said the items were gifts, said Moon, who added that he didn’t know how many items were confiscated.

Son Moon-kap of the Inchon customs office investigation division said the case will be turned over to the prosecutor’s office.

According to the Sept. 19 Morning Calm base newspaper, the 12 people are barred from leaving the country and have Korean attorneys. Article 96 of the South Korean Customs Act says travelers can import duty-free items, but there’s no defined limit, and the judgment of what is excessive is up to customs investigators, Kim wrote.

Under the Status of Forces Agreement, USFK personnel do not have to pay duties on furniture, household goods and personal effects brought for their own private use, Kim wrote. However, if someone takes a trip outside of Korea and purchases items of significant value — such as a sophisticated stereo system — that person would have to pay duties, Kim wrote.

Fraudulent designer label goods are widely available in countries such as Thailand and China and even South Korea. But Article 235 of the South Korean Trademark Act prohibits the import or export of fake-label goods.

How do you tell if something is a fake?

“By exercising a healthy skepticism when shopping,” Kim wrote. “For example, if you see an item with a well-known trademark or a mark that appears to be similar to a well-known trademark, and the item is significantly cheaper than you expect, consider yourself on notice that the item may be counterfeit.”

If items such as CDs are selling at low prices, Kim advises to be skeptical and think about if bringing the item to Korea would violate intellectual property laws. Similarly, U.S. customs agents will also confiscate counterfeit items, and violators face fines and jail time, Kim wrote.


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