LCQ15: Complaints relating to shops suspected of selling fake medicine

     Following is a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Gregory So, to a question by the Hon Paul Tse in the Legislative Council today (December 14):


     It has been reported that a large number of unscrupulous pharmacies have emerged at tourist spots in Hong Kong in recent years, and they are suspected of covering the brand names on the package of fake proprietary Chinese medicines with price labels and selling these spurious medicines specifically to mainland tourists.  It has also been reported that even though the police officers, after receiving the complaints, have come to the pharmacies involved, they only settle the cases by mediation.  The defrauded tourists vent their grievances at various forums on the Mainland, and some of them even indicate that they have lost their confidence in shopping in Hong Kong.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) whether it knows the respective numbers of complaints received by the Police, Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department, Hong Kong Tourism Board and Consumer Council in the past three years involving any shop alleged to be selling fake proprietary medicines; how such government departments and organisations handled the relevant cases after receiving the complaints; among the complaints, of the number of those in which the persons-in-charge of the shops involved were prosecuted due to such selling activities;

(b) in the past three years, of the number of the aforesaid complaint cases which the Police dealt with by mediation only, and the respective reasons why after receiving the relevant complaints, the Police did not lay any charge or initiate any investigation;

(c) given that tourists stay in Hong Kong for a brief period, of the existing policies and measures to provide timely assistance to tourists suspected to be defrauded during their stay in Hong Kong; and

(d) of the existing policies and measures to deal with the aforesaid shops which sell fake proprietary medicines by means of fraud; in addition, how it will clearly inform the mainland tourists visiting Hong Kong of such policies and measures, so that they know the channels through which they can lodge complaints and make reports, and the measures for protecting consumers and their rights in Hong Kong?



(a) At present, the Trade Descriptions Ordinance (the TDO) (Cap. 362) prohibits any person from applying false trade descriptions to goods in the course of trade and from applying forged trademarks or any marks which may cause another person to be deceived.  The Customs and Excise Department (the Customs) is responsible for the enforcement of the TDO.

     In the past three years, the Customs received 232 complaints relating to shops suspected of selling fake proprietary medicines.  The Customs investigated and analysed all cases, including inviting trademark owners to verify the authenticity of the relevant goods.  The Customs instituted prosecutions in relation to 54 cases, and 55 persons or companies were convicted eventually.  Details are as follows:

                                       Number of
             Number of   Number of     (persons/
Year         complaints  prosecutions  companies)
----         ----------  ------------  -----------
2008            49          20             25
2009            63          16              8
2010            70          15              9
January to      50           3             13
October 2011

     In the past three years, the Consumer Council (the CC) received 78 complaints relating to shops suspected of selling fake proprietary medicines.  If there is preliminary evidence that the sale of fake proprietary medicines might be involved, the CC refers the case to the Customs for investigation after securing consent from the complainant.  The CC also assists in mediation on complainants' request.  Relevant figures are as follows:

Year                    Number of complaints
----                    --------------------
2008                            11
2009                            22
2010                            27
January to October 2011         18

     In the past three years, the Hong Kong Tourism Board (the HKTB) received five complaints relating to shops suspected of selling fake proprietary medicines.  The HKTB referred all of them to the Customs and the CC for follow up.  The relevant figures are as follows:

Year                    Number of complaints
----                    --------------------
2008                             0
2009                             1
2010                             2
January to October 2011          2

     The Police does not keep statistics on cases involving shops suspected of selling fake proprietary medicines.

(b) The Police handles each complaint in a serious manner.  If fraud, deception or other criminal elements are found, it will investigate and take appropriate follow up actions in accordance with the law.  The Police will institute prosecution against the suspect if sufficient evidence for criminal charges is found.

(c) The Customs set up quick response teams in March 2009.  On duty around the clock, and ready to arrive at case scenes quickly, they attend to consumer complaints (including those of short-haul visitors) immediately.  Meanwhile, the Customs liaises closely with the Police, the CC and the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong, with effective complaint referral mechanisms established.  Visitors who have departed from Hong Kong may also lodge complaints to the Customs by email or letter from their homes.  The Customs will follow up accordingly.

(d) The Customs is committed to protecting the interests of consumers and tourists.  Apart from deploying additional staff for conducting inspection in shopping areas during long holidays, it also gathers information and intelligence for analysis and risk profiling.  It will conduct targeted checks against high-risk shops which are suspected of selling fake goods or goods with misleading mark.  When necessary, the Customs will conduct undercover operations or purchase goods for further analysis and testing.

     Besides, the Customs and the CC work closely together to raise consumer awareness.  For example, the Customs has articles on the outcome of enforcement actions and prevalent unfair trade practices published in the CC's monthly "Choice" magazine.  Since February this year, the CC has put up information on shops which were convicted of selling counterfeit drugs in its "Choice" magazine and the "Shopsmart" site to deter unscrupulous traders.  As at the end of November, the CC has named 29 pharmacies.

     Apart from stepping up enforcement, the Customs also attaches great importance to the promotion, publicity and education work on consumer protection legislation.  The Customs distributes pamphlets to tourists, organises seminars for the trade, and broadcasts Announcements in the Public Interests to raise consumer awareness.

Ends/Wednesday, December 14, 2011
Issued at HKT 15:04