Global operation strikes at online supply of illegal and counterfeit medicines worldwide

30 September 2011

Global operation strikes at online supply of illegal and counterfeit medicines worldwide

Brussels, 29 September 2011

Press Release

In the largest operation of its kind, 81 countries take part in an international week of action targeting the sale on the internet of counterfeit and illegal medicines, resulting in dozens of arrests and the seizure of 2.4 million potentially harmful medicines worldwide.

Operation Pangea IV from 20 to 27 September was undertaken in support of the International medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT) and involved Customs, police and national regulatory agencies with support from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), payment systems providers and delivery services.

Its aim was to disrupt online criminal networks and activities connected with the selling of fake medicines online, such as credit card fraud, and to raise public awareness of the health risks linked to purchasing medicines online.

The global operation targeted the three main components misused in the illegal website trade: the Internet Service Provider (ISP), the electronic payment system, and the delivery service.

It was coordinated by INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (HMA WGEO), the Pharmaceutical Security Industry (PSI) and the electronic payments industry.

“Organized crime has been dealt a hard blow and its networks severely disrupted as evidenced by the successes achieved by Operation Pangea IV and its laudable efforts to stop trafficking in medicines that are often fatal to consumers,” said WCO Secretary General, Kunio Mikuriya.

“INTERPOL's member countries and partners have shown through the success of Operation Pangea IV that the internet is not an anonymous safe haven for criminals trafficking illicit medicines,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble.

Mikuriya and Noble extended their thanks to Customs and police officers in the 81 participating countries as well as health regulatory officials in the UK and US and Customs agents from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for their critical support, stressing that effective and close coordination is the way forward in combating the illegal online trade of medicines.

During the week-long internet monitoring operation, more than 60 Customs administrations and seven WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs) shared information using CENcomm, the Organization’s secure communication tool.

INTERPOL's Lyon headquarters coordinated all intelligence and information collected during the Operation, seeing almost 13,500 websites engaged in illegal activity shut down and some 45,500 packages inspected by regulators and Customs authorities, of which almost 8,000 were seized and 2.4 million illicit and counterfeit pills originating from 48 countries confiscated.

Seizures included antibiotics, steroids, anti-cancer, anti-depression and anti-epileptic pills, as well as slimming and food supplements with some 55 individuals currently under investigation or under arrest for a range of offences, including illegally manufacturing, selling and supplying unlicensed or prescription-only medicines.

It is ultimately hoped that by raising public awareness about the dangers of illegal internet pharmacies, people will exercise greater care when purchasing medicines on the internet.

Final results from Operation Pangea IV will be released after investigations have concluded.