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

29 September 2011

LYON, France – In the largest operation of its kind, 81 countries have taken 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 worth USD 6.3 million.

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

“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.

“The main objective in Operation Pangea IV was to harness collective action across different sectors to assist authorities and stakeholders in INTERPOL’s 188 member countries to shut down illegal pharmaceutical websites and identify the money flows and sources behind these illicit pharmaceutical products which represent such a threat to the health of the public.”

“Our thanks go to the police, customs and health regulatory officials in the 81 participating countries. In particular, effective and close coordination between police and customs authorities has shown the way forward in combating the illegal online trade of medicines, and the day-to-day support from health regulatory agencies in the UK and USA, as well as from customs representatives from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was also critical to the success of Operation Pangea IV,” added the head of INTERPOL.

During the week-long Internet monitoring operation, which saw the participating countries send intelligence to a dedicated operations centre at INTERPOL's General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon, almost 13,500 websites engaged in illegal activity were shut down. In addition, some 45,500 packages were 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 were confiscated – including antibiotics, steroids, anti-cancer, anti-depression and anti-epileptic pills, as well as slimming or food supplement pills. Some 55 individuals are currently under investigation or under arrest for a range of offences, including illegally manufacturing, selling and supplying unlicensed or prescription-only medicines.

“We cannot halt the illicit online supply of medicines without a consistent, constant and collective international effort involving all sectors. The operation itself was only made possible thanks to a combined effort involving the 165 different participating agencies sharing and exchanging live information via INTERPOL's headquarters in Lyon," said the manager of INTERPOL’s Medical Products Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit, Aline Plançon.

“Ultimately, we hope that by raising public awareness about the dangers of illegal internet pharmacies, people will exercise greater care when purchasing medicines on the Internet,” added Aline Plançon.

Investigations are continuing and the final results from Operation Pangea IV will be released upon their conclusion.

As part of the world police body's general public alert service, INTERPOL has posted a series of "Don't Be Your Own Killer" videos on YouTube highlighting the dangers of illegal Internet pharmacies.