Swedish Court imposes prison sentences on trade mark invoice fraudsters
At the end of last year, the Svea Court of Appeal, based in Stockholm, Sweden, handed down its judgment following the trial of 20 people who has been charged with fraud related matters where those who had previously applied to register community trade marks with the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market ("OHIM") (now the EU Intellectual Property Office) were targeted.
Between 2011 and 2014, the 20 individuals sent fake invoices which appeared to have been sent from OHIM to several hundred individuals, each specifically addressed and with the OHIM letterhead. The recent decision of the Court of Appeal was a re-assessment of the question as to whether the victims of the fraudulent scheme, who made the requested payments, were in fact misled into making such payments. By applying the Swedish legal principle of free assessment of evidence, the Court of Appeal reversed the decision of the District Court and it was found that the absence of information as to specifically why the victims had made the payments was not sufficient to prevent a conclusion being made that the victims had been misled.
The main charged individual, Mr S.R, was convicted for attempted and completed gross fraud for 355 cases and Mr D.N, the secondary main charged individual was convicted for being complicit in Mr S.R's completed gross fraud convictions and further for 33 cases in which he had committed the fraud on his own. Mr S.R and Mr D.N received a four year and eight month prison sentence and a two year and nine month prison sentence respectively. The remaining eighteen individuals who had allowed their bank accounts to be used in the fraudulent activity were charged with various counts of completed and assisted completed gross fraud, including two individuals who received prison sentences for mailing the fake invoices. Convictions were also made in respect of criminal handling and receiving of stolen money for those individuals who allowed their bank accounts to be used.
A total of 74 claims for damages had been made by the victims of the scheme which comprised of the payments made pursuant to the fake invoices plus interest which had accrued, and such claims were approved by the Court of Appeal in its judgment. This decision by the Svea Court of Appeal and harsh sentences handed down are a step in the right direction as regards enforcement relating to fraudulent activity, the prosecution of which is actively supported by the EUIPO. Fraudulent schemes such as this are a stark reminder of how easily we can be misled, both in our professional and personal capacities and how important it is to stay vigilant to those who seek to take advantage of our naivety.
If you would like any further information on this issue or have received correspondence from the UK Intellectual Property Office or EU Intellectual Property Office and are unsure as to its meaning, implications and legitimacy please contact Blake Morgan's Intellectual Property Team.