The fake products, which were counterfeits of the Colgate Palmolive brand, had a market value of almost €100,000 and were discovered inside a shipping container which was in transit from China to the Republic of Congo. The shipment was uncovered by the ACA with the help of customs officials and Interpol.
Items seized contained a variety of dangerous substances including mercuric iodide and other ingredients used for skin bleaching. These chemicals can have serious side effects including skin cancer, kidney damage, discoloring and scarring.
Caspar Olouch, the Mombassa officer in charge of the investigation, said that he believes the products came from the main supplier of counterfeit cosmetics to West Africa, and that this was his first shipment through East Africa.
The illegal supplier
The items seized included 2,976 pieces of Parmapur soap, 3,600 pieces of high mercuric iodine extra Clair soap and 129,816 pieces of medisoft soap, with total value estimated at €94,480.
Some of the items had labels which gave away their dangerous contents, for example a sticker saying: "Poison: this product contains 2% w/w of mercuric iodide."
Olouch said that the agency’s international partners have been investigating the company which supplied the counterfeits for some time, and that they were only one of many suppliers of fake cosmetics to Africa.
He said:"we believe that there are many other counterfeits that might have slipped through our dragnets.”
“Some of these contain toxins, like mercury which is a heavy metal is very reactive and may degenerate the melamine pigment on the skin, exposing the skin to direct UV rays.”
“This may explain the high prevalence of cancer in recent times.”
Dangerous side effects
Olouch warned beauty customers:“Beauty products that are applied directly to the skin may have serious side effects if the ingredients are not correct.”
“Consumers who might have already used these products and are experiencing side effects must first seek proper medical attention. Such sources must be reported to the relevant authorities to carry out the necessary investigations.”
He also said that consumers should avoid buying from backstreet shops, which are notorious for selling counterfeit cosmetics in small volumes.
The officer added: “The fight against counterfeits is entirely intelligence based. Counterfeiters constantly alter their modus operandi to stay ahead of law enforcement. I wish to thank Interpol and the brand owners from the private sector and other government agencies for making this seizure possible."