In a joint law enforcement operation between Europol and the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA), two Turkish nationals have been charged with smuggling counterfeit cancer treatment prescription drugs from Turkey and other countries into the United States.
The defendants obtained unapproved, misbranded, adulterated, and counterfeit cancer treatment drugs from various sources. They then used shipping labels that concealed the illegal nature of the prescription drug shipments, including customs declarations falsely describing the contents as ‘gifts’, ‘documents’ or ‘product samples’ with no or low declared monetary values.
They ensured that large drug shipments were broken into several smaller packages to reduce the likelihood of seizures by U.S. Customs authorities and the corresponding loss of expensive drug shipments. Some prescription drugs, which require constant cold temperatures to maintain their stability and effectiveness, were shipped in boxes without insulation or any temperature protection whatsoever. This was despite the length of time required to ship products from Turkey to the United States, putting patients at high-level risk.
Two men aged 39 and 40 years old from Instanbul, Turkey, were charged by indictment by a federal grand jury in St Louis, Missouri, with one felony count of conspiracy to smuggle merchandise into the United States and three counts of smuggling. Both were arrested in Puerto Rico on 17 January 2014. If convicted, each count of smuggling carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and/or fines up to USD 250 000.
Europol were able to provide important initial support to this investigation by hosting preparatory operational meetings with the FDA in The Hague in 2013. For the arrests, Europol counterfeit product experts were present with a mobile office in Puerto Rico to enable the crosschecking of criminal intelligence. The posting of a permanent Liaison Officer to Europol headquarters from the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations has been key to establishing a closer relationship with European law enforcement authorities to attack problems such as counterfeit drugs at source.