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Anticounterfeiting fight in dubai: operation «Habibi»

Anticounterfeiting fight in dubai: operation «Habibi»

Tuesday, 18 December 2012
By Michel Arnoux
Michel Arnoux

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5 min read

In the vanguard of an anti-counterfeiting operation, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry (FH) plunges into the narrow streets of old Dubai, accompanied by the city’s police.

Samir (name changed by the author) has already been on the case for several weeks. Samir is our investigator. His mission: to locate clandestine warehouses. He runs a small network of people known to him alone, on the ground day and night, who provide him with leads and give him information. Give is not really the right word. Every piece of information involves a transaction. If the information is accurate and leads to the seizure of goods, it will be paid for. There is no other option. Samir recruited his people for their ability to melt into the cosmopolitan crowd of Dubai. For the rest of us, Dubai resembles a huge bazaar, a kaleidoscope of languages, skin colours, religions and clothing styles. In fact everything here is well ordered, albeit according to rules we don’t understand but everyone else does. Every community has its own small territory, its carefully guarded and demarcated fiefdom. An individual not in his place immediately attracts the attention of all others. Like a wave, the question rolls across the district: who is he, what’s he doing here? But Samir’s men don’t attract attention. They are Pakistanis with Pakistanis, Iranians among Iranians, Filipinos where necessary. They carry the same boxes as the others, push the same carts. And Samir is pleased with his small team.

Code-named «Habibi», the raid will take place today. At the crack of dawn we meet Samir in a restaurant with Hamed (also not his real name), who is in charge of organising the operation with the police. As is his custom, Hamed begins the day here. He takes breakfast at his usual table, and we must not take his place. Moreover no one dares to, since Hamed is a former career soldier. As is the case every morning, Hamed begins by scolding the poor waiter. It’s his way of placing an order. Today Samir is confident, he has checked everything; but Hamed is nervous. He repeatedly makes the same calls on his mobile phone. He leaves the table, comes back then disappears again. For us, the wait seems interminable, because we can only understand half of what’s being said. We know from experience that the operation might be cancelled at any moment, without notice, on the slightest pretext. We cross our fingers. Then suddenly: «yalla, yalla, amshi» (come on, it’s happening).

We immediately drive to Deira, a populous district of old Dubai not far from the Creek, where we discreetly meet up with the police officers who will be conducting the operation. Samir leaves us. He doesn’t want to run the risk of being recognised. His crosschecking indicates that the warehouse is located in a building in Naif. The layout on the ground makes the operation somewhat dangerous. The district forms a tangled mass of six and seven storey buildings lining nameless, narrow streets filled with a relentless stream of pedestrians, cyclists and carts. Not to mention the cars trying to force their way through the crowd. All of the buildings have common access via the roofs, which are in fact terraces cluttered with motley aerials and noisy air conditioning units, providing a multitude of escape routes and hiding places for traffickers. In addition, because of the many dark and grubby entrances it’s impossible to tell immediately if the staircases lead to the right-hand or left-hand building. Fortunately, according to Samir’s information, the target building is not protected by a video-surveillance system. In the neighbouring streets, small crowds form and disperse. Conversations abound in Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, and even in French among a group of Senegalese on a «business trip».


Arranged in more or less orderly fashion, by brand, there is a large quantity of watches, perhaps 10,000 in all.

We have to act fast. With a casual wave of the hand, the lieutenant gives the green light. Without rushing, the men disappear through the two entrances. With the first group, we bound up the stairs as far as the roof and emerge onto the terrace. It’s the wrong one, and the lieutenant curses. Quickly we have to go back down and climb the adjacent staircase. The others are there before us. They’ve already broken down the door, taking by surprise the warehouse watchman who finds himself handcuffed before he knows what’s happening. The information given to Samir was reliable, a fact borne out as we glance quickly at our surroundings. Arranged in more or less orderly fashion, by brand, there is a large quantity of watches, perhaps 10,000 in all; enough to supply twenty or more points of sale. In the adjoining room, piled everywhere, are hundreds of presentation boxes, cases, warranty cards and chronometer certificates. The handcuffed man broods in silence. He is despondent and refuses to answer any of the questions asked by the police. The lieutenant quietly congratulates his men. Another team will now take over. They’ll need to make a complete inventory of the seized goods and will work well into the night.

Meanwhile, Hamed is now more relaxed. Operation «Habibi» went off without a hitch and the result met his expectations. Our military man is by now starving. We accompany him with pleasure to the restaurant, just to see him tell off another poor helpless waiter.

Article published in Revue FH

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