Italian police are not surprised when they find counterfeit goods from China, but were taken aback to find $35 million worth of counterfeit train tickets for Rome's "Leonardo express" train on a ship that arrived from China.
Police in the Tuscan port of Livorno discovered over 2 million Chinese-made counterfeit train tickets stashed in 28 cardboard boxes at the back of a container meant to be carrying office furniture and postcards.
The tickets were all for the Rome central train station-airport "Leonardo express" train which sells at 14 euros ($19) a ticket.
"The seizure of this shipment is further proof of the versatility of Chinese criminal gangs," said Livorno Chief Prosecutor Francesco De Leo at a press conference held in the port city of Livorno to announce the find.
Over 400,000 containers transit through the port of Livorno every year.
"We knew immediately they were counterfeit tickets because why would the Italian train transport company be producing tickets in China?" Lt. Col. Donato Pignatore, spokesman for the Livorno 'Guardia di Finanza', Customs police said with a laugh. "Anyway, if they had been, they would have had no problem declaring that."
Comparisons with the real tickets showed the fake tickets had an inferior paper weight, a slightly washed-out look and the font of the numbers used were larger than on a genuine ticket.
The container which travelled by ship from the Chinese port of Ningbo was destined for a Chinese-run household-goods store in the Florence area, but investigators believe the tickets would have eventually been sold through travel agencies and other distributors throughout Italy.
A search was carried out at the store listed as the importer of the goods. Investigators found documents which link the store to the container, but the investigation is still ongoing.
Police did not say whether any arrests were made in the case.
Distribution of the fake tickets which would have resulted in a huge loss of revenue for the Italian State train company and hefty sum of unpaid taxes to the state.
Checks on container documents and manifests are carried out on at least 60 percent of the containers arriving at the Livorno port, with particular attention given to containers arriving from South America or the Far East.
"These counterfeit companies are very skillful and use different ports and company names each time to bring in their goods. We have to be ever-alert," Pignatore said.