PARIS Paris police have seized 60 tons of miniature Eiffel Towers that black-market vendors were hoping to sell to tourists.
Paris is one of the world's top destinations, visited by about 29 million tourists a year, but with the holidaymakers comes an influx of bootleg souvenirs, from replica towers to fake Hermes scarves.
Police play a cat and mouse game with the mostly immigrant sellers who flood the top tourist sites, taking business from the authorized vendors and paying no taxes.
Police said on Thursday the tin trinkets, brightly colored and barely 8cm high, were seized on Tuesday from a warehouse near Le Bourget airport north of Paris. A woman of Chinese nationality was in police custody.
Authorities say Chinese gangs, many based in the east of Paris, import the trinkets from China before selling them to other groups who control the sellers.
Up to 300-400 black-market sellers hawk their wares around the Eiffel Tower at the height of the summer season, say police, who circulate flyers to tourists encouraging them not to buy from street sellers.
Police said in a statement they had also raided an office in Paris' Marais district where some 100 black-market sellers per day would buy replica Eiffel Towers to sell on, seizing thousands more models and over 150,000 euros in cash.
However, police are hindered by the inability of over-stretched courts to prosecute the waves of illegal sellers, many of whom come from Senegal and India.
When sellers are caught, their goods confiscated but they are released because most are unable to pay a maximum fine of 3,750 euros ($5,000). Few are sent back to their home country - a bureaucratic process plagued by delays, authorities say. ($1 = 0.7555 euros)
(Reporting by Alexandria Sage; Editing by Alison Williams)