Europol has supported the INTERPOL-led Pangea IX – an international joint operation targeting the illicit online sale of medicines and medical devices which involved some 193 police, customs and health regulatory authorities from 103 countries.
Operation Pangea resulted in 393 arrests worldwide and the seizure of more than USD 53 million worth of potentially dangerous medicines. In addition, potentially life-threatening fake cancer medication, substandard HIV and diabetes testing kits, counterfeit dental equipment and illicit surgical equipment were seized.
Private partners from the internet and payment industries also supported the operation, which saw the suspension of 4 932 websites selling illicit pharmaceuticals.
A mobile Europol office was deployed to the dedicated operations centre at INTERPOL'S headquarters in Lyon. Europol analyst collected information and conducted cross checks against the agency's databases, in close cooperation with its liaison officer at INTERPOL.
The operation also targeted the main areas exploited by organized crime in the illegal online medicine trade: rogue domain name registrars, electronic payment systems and delivery services. A further 700 investigations have now also been launched by national authorities worldwide with at least 40 cases directly linked to organized crime.
As well as raids at addresses linked to the illicit pharmaceutical websites, some 334 000 packages were inspected and 170 340 seized by customs and regulatory authorities during the international week of action (30 May – 7 June).
Among the 12.2 million fake and illicit medicines seized during the operation were slimming pills, anti-malarial and cholesterol medication, erectile dysfunction pills, hair loss treatments and nutritional products. More than 270 000 medical devices worth an estimated USD 1.1 million were also recovered.
Police in Hungary seized some 65 000 anxiety medication tablets hidden in the back seat of a car and inside the spare wheel, in the same modus operandi often used to smuggle narcotics and an underground laboratory producing fake medication and steroids was discovered in Austria.
Myanmar authorities seized illicit anti-cancer medication and in Singapore, anabolic steroids, sleeping pills, pregnancy test kits, and drugs for infertility and weight loss were also recovered during Operation Pangea IX.
An investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration task force determined that between August 2013 and January 2014, a 29-year-old man from California had sold 2.4-dinitrophenol (DNP) on eBay as a weight loss product. One US customer died in October 2013 as a result of DNP ingestion and in May this year, the seller pleaded guilty to one count of introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce.
In May 2015, INTERPOL issued an Orange Notice warning about the dangers of DNP after one woman died in the UK and a French man was left seriously ill after taking the substance purchased via the Internet.