Police in eastern China said on Monday they have smashed an operation that made more than 20 million yuan ($3 million) from selling fake Herbalife products.
After a tipoff from e-commerce giant Alibaba about suspect activity, police raided a four-story property in suburban Suzhou, Jiangsu province, on Nov 1 and found seven people packing up counterfeit goods.
Officers seized nearly 2 metric tons of raw materials, including protein powder and cookies, as well as labels marked Herbalife, a US brand specializing in weight management products.
Another five people were later detained in Nanjing, Jiangsu province, and Guangzhou and Zhanjiang in Guangdong province, for distributing the fake goods online.
All 12 were given criminal detention as punishment by the public security bureau.
Police said the ringleader, identified only as Ding, 36, had employed people in their early 20s from Guangdong to produce hundreds of cans of fake health food a day.
He had confessed to producing fake health foods between 2007 and 2009, but had dodged legal penalties, according to Wu Jianfei, a Suzhou police officer involved in the case.
One of his subordinates, surnamed Jiang, was caught back then and received three years in prison. However, on his release, he reunited with Ding and they started making fake Herbalife products and selling them for about 300 yuan a can, Wu said.
Ding told police he copied the texture and flavor of the Herbalife products with protein powder and cookies, as well as other food additives.
Police said samples of the fake goods had been sent for testing to see if they posed a health hazard.