By Wan Saiful Wan Jan for Sin Chew Daily, 25 Feb 2017

 

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Have you ever bought fake products like fake branded watches or fake branded football jersey? Do you know anyone who sell fake CDs at pasar malam near your area? Have you downloaded any software illegally or bought a pirated software?

Some of us do not see any problem with buying fake products. They are a lot cheaper, while the original ones are usually expensive. A DVD of the latest film can be bought for just around RM5 each. But the original version could be five of six times that price. Some of us might feel that it does not make sense to spend so much money when a cheaper version is available, because ultimately we still get the same thing.

Let me tell you that you should seriously reconsider this nonchalant attitude because by buying the fake products you may be contributing to the operations of criminal gangs and even terrorism activities.

Last Tuesday I was invited to speak at the Global Illicit Trade Summit in Brussels, Belgium. It was organised by the prestigious weekly international magazine The Economist and it was attended by participants from around the world.

I spoke about the need for government and the private sector to be more active in educating the public about the topic. Our region, Asia, is the source of many fake products and we also buy many fake items. In Malaysia, fake items are everywhere. The demand continues to be high for them. Malaysians are not sensitive to the dangers and consequences of illicit trade. We just buy them without thinking too much about the consequences. I argued that to change that attitude, there must be more campaigns to educate the public and all stakeholders must work together.

What attracted my attention was when quite a few of the speakers at the Summit spoke about how illicit products are actually funding criminal activities nationally, regionally and globally. This is something that many of us do not know. As far as we are concerned, we just want to buy the products at the cheapest price possible.

Little do we know that illicit trade is the second biggest source of income for the global terrorism network. A study by the Norwegian Defence Research Institute published in January 2015 found that money from illicit trade contributes 28 percent of the funds used by terrorist organisations in Europe, which is about the same amount that came from theft and robbery. I am not aware if a similar study has been done in Malaysia. But I do wonder how much money from the sale of fake products contribute to financing criminal gangs in this country.

Some of us may even know people who sell fake products. They may run a stall at a local pasar malam and they may be selling innocent items like fake Adidas football jerseys or cheap illegal cigarettes. It is unlikely that they sell these items because they intentionally want to support criminal gangs. Often, they just want to make a living.

The similarity between many of the sellers and buyers of illicit items is quite straightforward. Both are attracted by the lower prices of illicit items. The sellers sell fake products because they know that the cheap price will attract consumers. And consumers buy them exactly because they are cheap.

One thing we should do is to ask why the original products are so expensive in the first place. If you do ask the question, then it is likely you will realise that the main culprit in many of these cases is the government itself.

Take the case of illicit cigarettes. Today 51.2 percent of the cigarettes sold in Malaysia is illicit. That means more than one in every two sticks of cigarette is illicit. This is a shockingly high number. But we suffer from this situation today because the government imposes a ridiculously high tax on cigarette, making the price of legal cigarettes way beyond the reach of many people. When the government makes the price artificially high by imposing tax, it is only expected that people opt to buy illicit products because they are a lot cheaper.

In other words, by imposing such a high tax on cigarettes, the Malaysian government is guilty of encouraging the growth of illicit cigarette trade in Malaysia. No one knows how much of the money eventually end up financing criminal gangs in the country, but I am sure the gangs would be happy if the government raises cigarette taxes even higher.

Of course it is unfair to blame it solely on the government. Some of the responsibility is on us as citizens too. If we know someone who sells fake products either in shops, online, or in pasar malam, we should tell time to stop doing it. If we like to buy fake products or download contents from the internet illegally, we need to stop doing so. We need to take responsibility too. I am sure the last thing any one of us want to do is to fund criminal gangs or terrorist organisations.

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