International operation targets online sale of illicit medicines

28 June 2013

Brussels, 27 June 2013

Press Release

Some 100 countries took part in a global operation aimed at disrupting the criminal networks behind the illicit sale of medicines online, resulting in 58 arrests worldwide and the seizure of 9.8 million potentially dangerous medicines worth approximately 41 million US dollars.

As the largest global Internet-based operation focusing on illicit websites selling fake or counterfeit medicines, Operation Pangea VI saw police, Customs and national regulatory authorities target websites supplying fake and illicit medicines, while increasing awareness of the serious health risks connected to purchasing medicines online.

Pangea VI was coordinated by INTERPOL, in close cooperation with the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime, the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers, the Pharmaceutical Security Institute and Europol.

INTERPOL and its operational partners, including the WCO, were fully supported by the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies, as well as private sector companies that included Visa, Mastercard, PayPal and Legitscript.

The week-long operation, which ran from 18 to 25 June 2013, targeted the main areas involved in the illegal online medicine trade, namely Internet Service Providers (ISPs), electronic payment systems and delivery services.

More than 9000 websites linked to illicit online pharmacies were identified and shut down, payment facilities of illegitimate pharmacies suspended, a substantial number of spam messages disrupted, and fake medicines, such as antibiotics, cancer medication, anti-depression pills, food supplements and erectile dysfunction medication seized.

"Transnational criminal networks are taking advantage of the Internet to deceive consumers into buying fake and often dangerous medicines with wanton disregard for the health risks this poses to unsuspecting buyers," said INTERPOL Secretary General, Ronald K. Noble.

"Our partners worldwide have combined their efforts in INTERPOL's Operation Pangea VI to fight these organized criminal networks; together, they are protecting innocent consumers by shutting down illegitimate online pharmacies, confiscating illegal pharmaceutical products and bringing criminals to justice," added Noble.

"These are significant steps forward in safeguarding the health and safety of the public, and in dealing a major blow to the criminal groups behind the counterfeiting of pharmaceutical products," concluded the INTERPOL Chief.

As well as raids at addresses linked to illicit pharmaceutical websites, some 522,000 packages were inspected by Customs and regulatory authorities, of which 58,000 were seized. To date, 175 investigations have been launched into a range of offences, including the illegal manufacturing, selling and supplying of counterfeit or unlicensed medicines.

"The health and safety of global consumers is paramount and all efforts to protect them from the dangers posed by illicit medicines sold online are being vigorously pursued using the full extent of our collective intelligence and legal tools," said the Secretary General of the WCO, Kunio Mikuriya.

"I am pleased that police, Customs and national regulatory authorities continue to work closely together at both the international and national level to combat this dangerous form of illicit trade, with the full support of our public and private sector partners across the globe," Mikuriya added.

"Clearly, the excellent results achieved during Operation Pangea VI demonstrates the effectiveness of combining our respective competencies to tackle crime, in particular the growing trade in online sales of illicit and often dangerous pharmaceutical products," stressed the WCO Secretary General.

A dedicated operations centre at INTERPOL’s Headquarters in Lyon served as a central hub for information exchange among participating countries and agencies, and Customs administrations used CENcomm, the WCO’s secure communication tool, to exchange information and intelligence among one another.

"We can only bring an end to the illegal online supply of pharmaceutical products through collective and systematic international efforts, such as the Pangea operations," said Aline Plançon, the Assistant Director of INTERPOL’s Medical Products Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime Sub-Directorate.

"The dedicated and constant efforts of partners from all sectors are vital to protecting innocent consumers and ensuring that the Internet does not become a safe haven for transnational criminals," Ms Plançon stressed.

"Ultimately, we hope that by increasing public awareness of the risks associated with illegal online pharmacies, people will take greater care the next time they turn to the Internet to purchase medicines," added Ms Plançon.

Investigations linked to Operation Pangea VI are ongoing, and the final results will be released upon their conclusion.