Interpol has taken down thousands of illicit online pharmacies that were selling fake medicines and Covid-19 testing kits.
Operation Pangea XIV involved authorities in 92 countries and saw 113,020 web links, including websites and online marketplaces, closed down or removed — the largest number since the first Operation Pangea in 2008.
It resulted in 277 arrests around the world and the seizure of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals worth more than $23 million, along with fake Covid test kits, masks, syringes, catheters and surgical devices.
Fake and unauthorized Covid-19 testing kits accounted for more than half of all the nine million medical devices that were seized.
“As the pandemic forced more people to move their lives online, criminals were quick to target these new ‘customers’,” says 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.”
In the UK, around three million fake medicines and devices worth more than $13 million were seized. These included anti-depressants, erectile dysfunction tablets, painkillers, anabolic steroids and slimming pills.
MORE FOR YOU
More than 3,100 advertising links for the illegal sale and supply of unlicensed medicines were removed, and 43 websites were shut down. Eight search warrants were executed, with seven criminals arrested.
“Operation Pangea is a powerful example of what can be achieved through partnership working to tackle this kind of offending,” says Andy Morling, head of enforcement at the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).
“We will continue to work closely with our international partners and UK Border Force to prevent unlicensed medicines from entering the UK, to identify illegally operating websites and to bring those criminals behind them to justice.”
In Italy, meanwhile, authorities recovered more than 500,000 fake surgical masks as well as 35 industrial machines used for production and packaging.
Other fake medicines included hypnotic and sedative medication, erectile dysfunction pills, painkillers and anabolic steroids, along with germicides, anti-cancer medication, anti-malarials and vitamins.
These, Interpol warns, may contain too much or too little of their active ingredients, and often have altered expiration dates or have been badly stored, meaning they could be ineffective or contaminated.
Interpol and national authorities say they plan to continue to work together to identify ‘hotspot’ exporting countries and disrupt criminals’ business models.