Over 10,000 websites were taken down and rogue domain name registrars targeted as nearly 200 enforcement agencies across 111 countries took part in Operation Pangea VII. The operation targeted criminal networks behind the sale of fake medicines via illicit online pharmacies. The operation led to 237 arrests worldwide and the seizure of nearly US$36 million worth of potentially dangerous medicines.
In terms of the number of participating INTERPOL member countries, Operation Pangea VII is the largest-ever global operation targeting fake medicines. It resulted in the launch of 1,235 investigations, the removal of more than 19,000 adverts for illicit pharmaceuticals via social media platforms and more than 10,600 websites shut down.
In the UK alone £8.6 million ($14.5m) of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines were seized along with 3.6 million doses of counterfeit and unlicensed medicines, five arrests and the shutdown of 1,891 websites.
In addition to interventions on the ground, which included the identification and dismantlement of three illicit laboratories in Colombia, 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.
Operation Pangea VII was coordinated by INTERPOL, 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) and Europol, with support from the Center for Safe Internet Pharmacies (CSIP) and private sector companies including G2 Web Services, LegitScript, MasterCard, Microsoft,PayPal and Visa.
As well as raids at addresses linked to the illicit pharmaceutical websites, some 543,000 packages were inspected by customs and regulatory authorities, of which nearly 20,000 were seized during the international week of action (13 – 20 May).
Among the 9.4 million fake and illicit medicines seized during the operation were slimming pills, cancer medication, erectile dysfunction pills, cough and cold medication, anti-malarial, cholesterol medication and nutritional products.
“The sole focus of the organized crime networks behind the sale of these fake and illicit medicines is to make money, and they do not care about the potentially life-threatening consequences of their actions,” said INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble.
“Operation Pangea has again demonstrated that the joint efforts of law enforcement agencies around the world and with the support of the private sector can have a significant impact in helping to protect the public and turn back crime,” said the INTERPOL Chief.
Following the discovery of the illicit laboratories in Bogota, INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Colombia issued the first ever INTERPOL Purple Notices – which seek or provide information on modi operandi, objects, devices and concealment methods used by criminals – in relation to pharmaceutical crime.
NCB Bogota also requested INTERPOL Blue Notices requesting further intelligence regarding suspects in a criminal organization related to pharmaceutical crime in order to trace and locate them.
“The results from Operation Pangea VII are not just about the seizures and arrests, but also about demonstrating the growing commitment from member countries in tackling these crimes, and their increasing expertise,” said Aline Plançon, head of INTERPOL’s Medical Products Counterfeiting and Pharmaceutical Crime (MPCPC) unit.
“The interceptions and seizures physically stop these potentially life-threatening medicines from reaching unsuspecting consumers, but equally as important is shutting down the online platforms used by organized crime to target the public,” added Ms Plançon.
Throughout Operation Pangea VII, INTERPOL’s General Secretariat headquarters in Lyon served as the central hub for information exchange among the participating countries and agencies. From this base, the WCO’s Regional Intelligence Liaison Office for Western Europe coordinated activities between participating customs administrations via CENcomm and the Pangea team, and a mobile Europol office also conducted cross-checks.
Operation Pangea VII is part of INTERPOL’s Turn Back Crime global awareness campaign, which aims to educate society about the ways in which organized crime infiltrates our daily lives, and to assist the public in protecting themselves.