European operation smashes fake medicines ring

Eurojust and Europol logosPolice from several European countries have seized millions of fake medicines, mainly erectile dysfunction drugs, worth an estimated €10m.

The one-day operation - spearheaded by Europol and EU judicial unit Eurojust and involving police forces from Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, France, Hungary, Slovakia, Spain and the UK - also resulted in 12 arrests and the seizure of more than €7.5m in cash, bank accounts and assets such as cars.

The raids marked the culmination of an investigation first started back in 2012 that targeted a particular organised crime network deeply involved in the fake medicines trade in Europe. The counterfeit medicines targeted by the operation were imported into the EU from Asia and contain "incorrect dosages and ingredients which pose a serious health hazard," according to the .

Eurojust set up a centre in the Netherlands to help coordinate the operation across the various countries, while Europol deployed a mobile office for real-time analysis and cross-checking, assisting the police with forensic and analytical support.

This centralised approach facilitated the swift exchange of information as well as the resolution of legal issues.

"The law enforcement activities aimed to specifically counter the activities of the organised crime group behind the supply and online distribution of counterfeit medicines … and their money laundering activities," said Europol in a statement.

The organised crime group "has been operating for more than two years throughout the EU, and this is the first occasion that … member states have joined forces against such distributors," added Eurojust.

To give an idea scale of the activity, since the investigation started in September 2012, more than 300,000 pills with an estimated value of €2m have been seized in Austria alone, but it is estimated that this represents only one-fifth of the total transactions made by criminal network in Austria.

Fake medicinesIn France, payments totalling €9m were identified as having been processed over three years, while in Spain, counterfeit goods worth more than €1.5m have been seized and three people arrested.

Similarly, over the last two years, the UK authorities have identified more than €12m in transactions involving counterfeit and unlicensed medicines.

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