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18 years jail for ‘industrial scale’ pirates

Evidence from Queensway Film Distribution, including expert witness statements, has helped to bring down one of the UK’s biggest counterfeit DVD operations – and resulted in jail sentences totalling over 18 years being given to the ringleaders.

The men behind the operation provided a ‘one stop shop’ counterfeit DVD production service for other gangs across London and the South East and also had international links. They copied mainstream movies as well as hardcore porn.

Sami Asghar-Sheikh and his brother Rafi Asghar-Sheikh of North Chingford were found guilty of conspiracy to launder the proceeds of Film Piracy, and conspiring to produce pirate DVDs contravening the Trademark Act and Copyright. They were sentenced to six years imprisonment each. Their father, Khalid Asghar-Sheikh, also of North Chingford, was found guilty of conspiring to launder the proceeds of Film Piracy and he was sentenced to four years. Another man, Xin Li, was found guilty of concealing the proceeds of crime and sentenced to two years and three months.

Investigations began back in early 2006 following an interception of a parcel by Customs at Stansted Airport. The parcel was addressed to Rafi Sheikh and contained ten silver metal discs. The discs were identified by FACT as original master copies or ‘stampers’ of films used by the industry for DVD replication, indicating for the first time the presence in the UK of an industrial replication plant.

FACT contacted the Film Piracy Unit at the MPS which began surveillance at the home and various business addresses connected to the directors and family associates of the Sheikh’s company, Samrana Ltd, which was the main supplier of counterfeit films. The directors of Samrana Ltd and other family members were able to conduct their criminal enterprise under the cover of a company conducting legitimate business.

The location of the industrial replication machinery was traced to industrial premises in Walthamstow but is now physically located in Vietnam, having been exported from the UK after the seizure of the stampers.

£130,000 in cash was found during searches of the offenders’ homes and an investigation aimed at tracing and confiscating other criminal assets is continuing.

Detective Chief Superintendent Nigel Mawer, Economic and Specialist crime command, Film Piracy Unit, Met Police, said: “This sentencing is the result of three years’ hard work and investigation into the activity of an extensive criminal network. Film piracy is not a victimless crime and it is crucial that the public ask themselves if they want to play a part in the exploitation of vulnerable people by buying illegal DVDs.”