Eurojust and Europol work together to stop counterfeit medicines
The Hague, 1 September 2014
In the early hours of this morning, law enforcement authorities in Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Hungary and the United Kingdom took part in simultaneous operations to stop the distribution of counterfeit, prescription-only medicines (mainly erectile dysfunction pills), the laundering of the related proceeds, and to address the impact of these counterfeit medicines on public health in the European Union.
To support the operations, the Spanish National Desk at Eurojust set up a coordination centre with the assistance of the National Desks of all countries involved, Eurojust’s Case Analysis Unit and Europol. The coordination centre 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. Simultaneously, experts and analysts from Europol assisted the police and provided forensic and analytical support during the action day.
Following intelligence gathered during an investigation carried out by the authorities in Spain that ¬assisted further investigations in Austria, France and the UK and that also provided Europol with useful leads, 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.
Today’s operations resulted in the seizure 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.
These positive results were made possible by the JIT, which was part-financed by Eurojust, specifically to counter the activities of the organised crime group (OCG) behind the supply and distribution of counterfeit, prescription-only medicines via a number of websites. The OCG has been operating for more than two years throughout the European Union, and this is the first occasion that four Member States have joined forces against such distributors.
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 believed 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 investigation last year.
The counterfeit, prescription-only medicines targeted by this operation are imported into the European Union from China and India and often contain incorrect dosages and ingredients.
This operation shows that a multi-agency approach and a swift exchange of information can lead to important operational successes.
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