A record number of fake online pharmacies have been shut down in Interpol operation targeting the sale of counterfeit and illicit medicines and medical products. Three million fake medicines were seized in the UK.
THE operation coordinated by Interpol involved police, customs and health regulatory authorities from 92 countries including the UK. It resulted in 113,020 web links including websites and online marketplaces being closed down or removed, the highest number since the first Operation Pangea in 2008.
In the UK, in addition to the seizure of some three million fake medicines and devices worth more than $13 million, authorities also removed more than 3,100 advertising links for the illegal sale and supply of unlicensed medicines, and shut down 43 websites.
In Venezuela a man was arrested after he developed an e-commerce platform on WhatsApp to sell illicit medicines.
Operation Pangea XIV also showed that criminals are continuing to cash in on the demand for personal protection and hygiene products generated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
More than half of all medical devices seized during the operation were fake and unauthorised Covid-19 tests which resulted in 277 arrests worldwide and the seizure of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals worth more than $23 million.
In Italy, authorities recovered more than 500,000 fake surgical masks as well as 35 industrial machines used for production and packaging.
“As the pandemic forced more people to move their lives online, criminals were quick to target these new ‘customers’,” said Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock.
“Whilst some individuals were knowingly buying illicit medicines, many thousands of victims were unwittingly putting their health and potentially their lives at risk. The online sale of illicit medicines continues to pose a threat to public safety, which is why operations such as Pangea remain vital in combating this global health scourge,” added Secretary General Stock.
“Through Operation Pangea, we have supported Interpol, the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency and Border Force in tackling the worldwide threat of pharmaceutical crime linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have seen how organised crime groups have responded to the changing environment however, we also continue to adapt and work with partners to disrupt their activities,” said Kathryn Clarke, the Head of UK International Crime Bureau from the National Crime Agency.
Checks of some 710,000 packages led to the discovery of fake and illicit drugs hidden amongst legitimate products including clothes, jewellery, toys, food and baby products.
Supported by the Pharmaceutical Security Institute, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime/World Customs Organisation’s Container Control Programme and Europol, overall the operation resulted in the seizure of around nice million medical devices and illicit pharmaceuticals, including: Hypnotic and sedative medication; erectile dysfunction pills; medical devices including Covid Test kits, masks, syringes, catheters, surgical devices; painkillers; anabolic steroids anti-cancer medication; anti-malarials and vitamins.
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