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High-impact Customs operation tackles illicit medicines in Africa

25 octubre 2012

Brussels, 25 October 2012-10-25 

Press Release 

A Customs enforcement operation spanning 16 African countries led to the seizure of more than 82 million doses of illicit medicines including antimalarial and antiparasitic drugs, antibiotics, cough syrups, and even contraceptive pills and infertility treatments, estimated to be worth over 40 million US dollars. These results are alarming and serve as a reminder of the scale of the traffic in illicit medicines in Africa and the danger this illicit trade represents to consumer health and safety.

Operation VICE GRIPS 2 was organized by the World Customs Organization (WCO) in partnership with the Institute of Research against Counterfeit Medicines (IRACM). Sixteen Customs administrations in Africa joined in the operation: Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Togo.

The operation was conducted simultaneously at 16 major seaports on the East and West coasts of Africa from 11 to 20 July 2012, leading to the seizure of more than 100 million counterfeit products of all categories. Of a total number of 110 maritime containers inspected by teams of Customs officials, 84 were found to contain counterfeit or illicit products, with the biggest shipments being discovered in Angola, Togo, Cameroon and Ghana. The vast majority of shipments seized originated from South and East Asia and the Middle East.

“We have to continue to take coordinated and decisive action because lives are at stake,” said WCO Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya. High-impact operations such as VICE GRIPS enable the fight against counterfeiting to be stepped up in cooperation with right holders and other strategic partners such as health authorities. “Through our joint efforts we are able to identify the challenges that need to be addressed, as well as the strategies that need to be employed against this illicit trade by criminal entrepreneurs,” the Secretary General added. 

During the course of the Operation, Customs officers on the ground used IPM (Interface Public Member), a tool developed by the WCO to enhance the ability of officials to identify counterfeit goods by accessing key information provided by right holders. The high increase in seizures compared to previous operations has clearly demonstrated that IPM has proved its worth, enabling Customs to take smart decisions aimed at stopping illicit trafficking and fraud without hindering legitimate trade.  

Further investigations are continuing in collaboration with the appropriate authorities, such as the police, the judicial authorities and health agencies.

VICE GRIPS, which will be extended to other continents in the coming months, had several objectives: to detect new vectors and fraud techniques so that appropriate control methods can be put in place; to train Customs experts in risk analysis and targeting techniques; to encourage Customs to use the IPM system particularly in real-time conditions; to identify the various types of counterfeit products and their potential risk; and to mobilize stakeholders, especially rights holders and regulatory agencies, to support and cooperate with Customs.

In preparation for the Operation, Customs officers involved were trained by the WCO, with the support of IRACM and experts from the pharmaceutical sector, to recognize the technical characteristics of various products which are subject to counterfeiting and to implement new detection methods. 

More information


Jacques Lechat: +32 2 762 04 85 or


Laurence de la Touche: +33 1 49 24 58 43 or