Europol has supported a global Interpol–coordinated operation targeting the criminal networks behind the sale of fake medicines via illicit online pharmacies. The operation has led to the arrest of 156 individuals worldwide and the seizure of potentially dangerous medicines worth USD 81 million.
This huge action involved 115 countries and resulted in the launch of 429 investigations, the suspension of more than 550 adverts for illicit pharmaceuticals via social media platforms and 2414 websites being taken offline.
Europol deployed a specialist in the operations centre based at Interpol's General Secretariat in Lyon. Together with Europol's Liaison Officer, the specialist crosschecked all incoming data with Europol databases and provided the concerned agencies with analysis reports when hits were found.
Europol also provided forensic support in Vienna to colleagues from Austria's BKA, customs and the pharmaceutical agency AGES.
In addition to interventions on the ground, which included the discovery of an illicit warehouse full of counterfeit and expired medicines in Indonesia, the operation also targeted the main areas exploited by organised crime in the illegal online medicine trade: rogue domain name registrars, electronic payment systems and delivery services.
As well as raids at addresses linked to the illicit pharmaceutical websites, some 150 000 packages were inspected by customs and regulatory authorities, of which 50 000 were seized during the international week of action (9–16 June).
Among the fake and illicit medicines seized during the operation were blood pressure medication, erectile dysfunction pills, cancer medication and nutritional supplements. In the case from Indonesia, authorities uncovered an operation where criminals were altering the expiry date or the amount of the active ingredient on packages of counterfeit, expired and unregistered medicines at the warehouse and returning them to a pharmacy for sale.
Operation Pangea VIII was the largest ever Internet-based operation focusing on the illicit sale of medicines and medical devices, with the participation of 236 agencies from police, customs and health regulatory authorities. Private partners from the Internet and payment industries also supported the operation, which saw a record number of 20.7 million illicit and counterfeit medicines seized.
Operation Pangea VIII was coordinated by Interpol, together with the World Customs Organization (WCO), the Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), the Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (WGEO), the Pharmaceutical Security Institute (PSI), Europol, and supported by the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and private sector companies including LegitScript, Google, Mastercard, Visa, American Express and PayPal.