Pangea V nets almost 4m illicit medicines

Seized medicinesThe latest international crackdown on illicit online pharmacies has resulted in the seizure of 3.75m medicine units - worth an estimated $10.5m - and led to 79 arrests.

This is the fifth year that Operation Pangea has been carried out by Interpol, customs, police, regulatory authorities and other enforcement agencies, and once again the number and value of illegal drugs has risen over the prior year as more countries have become involved.

This year the operation spanned 100 countries - up from 81 for Pangea IV - and is thought to be the largest Internet-based action of its kind, targeting the international black market of fake and illicit medicines.

In addition to the seizures and arrests, Interpol and its partners were able to take down some 18,000 websites linked to rogue online pharmacies, suspend payment facilities for the organisations behind them and disrupt the distribution of spam emails and social networking messages.

The record haul is four times the value of the 2010 operation - which netted drugs worth $2.6m - and 80 per cent up on the $6,3m seized last year.

Last year the operation was notable for the involvement of large numbers of Internet service providers, while in 2012 the action was beefed up by a coordinated effort to trace financial transactions, with the help of organisations such as Visa, MasterCard and PayPal.

"This is a major boost in protecting the health and safety of the public, and tackling the organised networks behind this crime," said Interpol secretary general Ronald Noble.

"Organised, sophisticated criminals and rogue pharmacies are unfortunately using the Internet to defraud innocent consumers, to place them in harm’s way, to steal their identities and to engage in credit card fraud," he added.

Among the counterfeit and illicit medicines were anti-cancer medication, antibiotics, erectile dysfunction pills as well as slimming and food supplements.

The individuals arrested or under investigation as a result of the operation are being linked to a range of offences, including operating a clandestine laboratory producing counterfeit medicines, membership of a criminal group selling illicit medicine online and operating websites selling illicit medicines.

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