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29 May 2009

Arrests and major seizure of counterfeit medicines across Egypt follow international co-operation with INTERPOL and IMPACT stake-holders

As part of an ongoing transnational investigation against counterfeit medical products, Egyptian police authorities have carried out a series of raids in strategic locations during the past two months, resulting in the arrests of five key suspects and the recovery of millions of potentially life-threatening counterfeit medicines worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Under the umbrella of the World Health Organization International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Task Force (IMPACT), Egyptian police, customs and private sector investigators joined forces in Port Said, Cairo and the Suez Canal.  Six combined operations in April and May led to the seizure of 10 containers each holding hundreds of thousands of counterfeit medicines bound for the Middle East.  Three of the containers were seized by Egyptian customs in the Suez Canal, and 3,300 bottles of counterfeit pharmaceuticals at Cairo airport.

Amongst the counterfeit medicines found, a wide range of  medicines were identified, including lifestyle products and others intended for organ-transplant patients or serious diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, epilepsy or schizophrenia.

Endorsing joint INTERPOL-IMPACT efforts to combat transnational crime involving counterfeit medical products, the Egyptian Assistant Interior Minister, General Amer, supported efforts by INTERPOL’s General Secretariat headquarters to pursue co-ordinated investigations in its member countries where suspects are believed to operate.

NCB Cairo has now asked INTERPOL's General Secretariat in Lyon, France, to publish a Green Notice for one of the alleged ringleaders.   A green notice is circulated to all 187 INTERPOL member countries providing a warning, and criminal intelligence, about persons who have committed criminal offences and are likely to repeat these crimes in other countries.  INTERPOL believes that these raids are all linked to the same international criminal network.

The IMPACT Enforcement group, including INTERPOL and the Permanent Forum on International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), have conducted a number of enforcement activities which include Operation Storm in Southeast Asia, Operation Mamba in Tanzania and Uganda and Operation Pangea on illicit trade of medicines over the internet. These resulted in the seizure of large amounts of counterfeit medical products and the closure of several businesses involved in the production of fake medicines.

Created in 2006, IMPACT aims to develop international collaboration between WHO member states, international organizations, NGOs, law enforcement agencies and health professional groups. The aim is to raise awareness of the dangers of counterfeit medical products and to curb their manufacture and distribution.