Police across Southeast Asia target counterfeit medicines in multi-agency operation

17 November 2008

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Police across Southeast Asia have made a series of arrests and seized fake drugs worth millions of dollars in an operation supported by INTERPOL, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Customs Organization (WCO).

Under the framework of the WHO’s International Medical Products Anti-counterfeiting Task Force (IMPACT) and co-ordinated by INTERPOL, Operation Storm targeted individuals and groups involved in the manufacture and distribution of four classes of counterfeit medicines identified as posing a significant public health risk – anti malaria, anti tuberculosis, anti-HIV and antibiotics, specifically those for pneumonia and child-related illnesses.

“Operation Storm will provide a blueprint for future actions in targeting this type of criminal activity which affects every corner of the globe,” said INTERPOL Secretary General, Ronald K. Noble.

“Counterfeit medicines pose a significant threat to the health and safety of some of the most vulnerable members of society, and it is clear that only through a multi-agency response can we significantly disrupt the trade in fake drugs.”

The operation, which took place across Cambodia, China, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, also provided a unique platform for collaboration between national police, customs, public health authorities, drug regulatory authorities, international organizations and the private sector.

During Operation Storm, which ran from 15 April to 15 September 2008, nearly 200 raids were carried out, resulting in 27 arrests and the seizure of more than 16 million pills with an estimated value of USD 6.6 million.

The results of the operation were announced at the start of the International Law Enforcement Training Seminar on Combating Counterfeit Drugs hosted by Cambodia. Opening the meeting, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Mr Sar Kheng said co-operation was key.

“No one state alone can fully succeed in fighting against the production and distribution of counterfeit drugs. We must exchange intelligence, share our respective roles and responsibilities, particularly the source, transit and destination countries, in order to take the appropriate action to prevent and eliminate fake drugs,” said Deputy Prime Minister Kheng.

A key part of Operation Storm was the provision of training to customs, drug regulatory agency and police officials to assist them in counterfeit identification and sample handling techniques.