Fake, stolen medicines operation busted in Poland

A criminal network thought to have sold tens of millions of counterfeit pharmaceutical products to customers all over Europe and the US has been dismantled in an operation led by Polish police.

Officers in the city of Poznań arrested 13 people and seized “hundreds of thousands” of counterfeit medicinal products and drugs in the operation, which was carried out with police in France and Italy and supported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF).

The gang – made up mainly of Polish and French nationals – was distributing a wide range of medicines, including drugs for cancer and psychiatric conditions as well as anabolic steroids and products for erectile dysfunction.

The specific medicines haven’t been named but include “some of the best-known brands in the world,” according to a press statement.

Raids at properties also uncovered 15kg of active substances used in the manufacture of falsified medicines and half-finished medicines worth an estimated €5.6m (around $6.7m).

In a statement, Polish police said the operation had been running since at least February 2018 and bore the hallmarks of an “organised international criminal group”.

Fake documents, firearms, and illegal drugs were also discovered, exposing once again the close links between narcotics and falsified medicines in pharma crime.

This operation is particularly significant because most falsified medicines reach the hands of European consumers via small-volume shipments from Asia and other parts of the world. Production at scale organised by criminals operating within Europe is less common. 

It is thought gang members imported at least half a tonne of active ingredient from Asia to Poland, which was the shipped to other countries to be made into the finished fake medicines, which then “found their way back to the Polish market or were sold to consumers all over Europe and the US via online stores.”

The gang also stole genuine medicines from manufacturing facilities operated by pharmaceutical companies to supplement their stocks and – as a by-product at least – to make it harder for the scam to be discovered.

OLAF declined to provide any additional detail on the case – such as the sites used to sell the medicines, whether falsified or stolen drugs ended up in the legitimate supply chain and the location of finished dose manufacturing – saying this was to preserve the integrity of investigations.

If convicted of wrongdoing, the detainees could be charged with endangering public health through the production, storage, and sale of fake medicinal products, as well as illegally importing active substances and finished medicinal products and laundering money from criminal activities.

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