Law enforcement authorities from Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Hungary, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom, supported by Europol and Eurojust, today contributed to simultaneous operations to stop the distribution of prescription-only counterfeit medicines in the European Union.
Today’s operations resulted in seizures of several million pills with an estimated value well in excess of EUR 10 million, a large amount of cash and several vehicles, including luxury models, and the freezing of more than EUR 7.5 million in bank accounts and assets. In addition, 12 suspects were arrested.
The law enforcement activities aimed to specifically counter the activities of the organised crime group (OCG) behind the supply and online distribution of counterfeit medicines – mainly erectile dysfunction pills – and their money laundering activities.
Following intelligence gathered during a criminal pharma case by the authorities in Spain that provided Europol with useful leads and that also assisted further investigations in Austria, France and the UK, several operational meetings were held to inform and exchange information with the concerned Member States and other involved countries. Eurojust organised a coordination meeting to discuss a common strategy among the authorities involved, including the establishment of a joint investigation team (JIT) among Spain, Austria, France and the UK and supported by the authorities in Cyprus, Hungary, and Slovakia, and common action days. Members of the JIT will now travel to other involved countries to facilitate the exchange of information.
Since the beginning of the investigation in September 2012, more than 300 000 pills with an estimated value of EUR 2 million have been seized in Austria alone. However, it is thought that this represents only one-fifth of the total transactions made by the OCG in Austria. In France, payments totalling EUR 9 million were identified as having been processed over three years. In Spain, counterfeit goods worth more than EUR 1.5 million have been seized and three people arrested. Over the last two years, the UK authorities have identified more than EUR 12 million in transactions involving counterfeit and unlicensed medicines. The Hungarian authorities were involved in a similar operation last year.
These latest operations were coordinated from Eurojust premises in The Hague. This facilitated the swift exchange of information, resolution of legal issues and the elaboration of a final overview of the results, tailor-made for the needs of the involved judicial authorities. At the same time, Europol provided valuable assistance by deploying a mobile office for real-time analysis and cross-checking of data on the spot. Simultaneously, experts and analysts from Europol assisted the police and provided forensic and analytical support during the action day.
The counterfeit medicines targeted by this operation are imported into the European Union from Asia and contain incorrect dosages and ingredients which pose a serious health hazard.