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Intellectual Property Rights
09/30/2011

IPR Center participates in annual worldwide scan of international mail for illicit pharmaceuticals sold on the Internet

WASHINGTON — In the largest operation of its kind, 81 countries took part in an international week of action targeting the online sale of counterfeit and illegal medicines. This operation resulted in dozens of arrests and the seizure of 2.4 million potentially harmful medicines worldwide worth $6.3 million.

Focusing on websites supplying illegal and dangerous medicines, Operation Pangea IV is the largest Internet-based action of its kind coordinated by INTERPOL, the World Customs Organization (WCO), Permanent Forum of International Pharmaceutical Crime (PFIPC), Heads of Medicines Agencies Working Group of Enforcement Officers (HMA WGEO), the pharmaceutical industry and online payment systems providers in support of International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT).

The global operation was carried out between Sept. 20 and 27, and involved police, customs and regulatory agencies. It targeted the three main components of this illegal Web trade – the Internet Service Provider (ISP), payment systems and the delivery services.

Eighty-one countries participated in Operation Pangea IV compared to 45 that participated last year.

The U.S. operation, managed by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), included: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and the FBI.

Pangea IV operations within the United States resulted in 92 seizures, consisting of 57,052 pills, including counterfeit Cialis and Viaga, with a manufacturer suggested retail price of $925,520.

With 53 countries reporting their results to date, 13,495 websites engaged in illegal activity have been taken down. In addition, 45,419 packages were inspected by regulators and customs officials, and 7,901 packages were seized containing more than 2.4 million illicit and counterfeit pills originating from 48 countries – including antidepressants, antibiotics, steroids, arthritis medicine, lifestyle drugs and diet pills. Seized pharmaceuticals are estimated to be worth $6.3 million. During the operation, 55 individuals were arrested and are under investigation for a range of offenses, including illegally selling and supplying unlicensed or prescription-only medicines. Some 36 search warrants were executed.

"Operations like this highlight why international partnerships are such an essential weapon in the fight against trafficking of counterfeit pharmaceuticals," said ICE Director John Morton. "People who purchase drugs should never have to be put at risk because the product is fake, unsafe or untested."

"INTERPOL's member countries and partners have shown through the success of Operation Pangea IV that the Internet is not an anonymous safe haven for criminals trafficking illicit medicines," said INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald K. Noble. "The main objective in Operation Pangea IV was to harness collective action across different sectors to assist authorities and stakeholders in INTERPOL's 188 member countries to shut down illegal pharmaceutical websites and identify the money flows and sources behind these illicit pharmaceutical products which represent such a threat to the health of the public. Our thanks go to the police, customs and health regulatory officials in the 81 participating countries. In particular, effective and close coordination between police and customs authorities has shown the way forward in combating the illegal online trade of medicines, and the day-to-day support from health regulatory agencies in the UK and USA, as well as from customs representatives from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, was also critical to the success of Operation Pangea IV."

"Organized crime has been dealt a hard blow and its networks severely disrupted as evidenced by the successes achieved by Operation Pangea IV and its laudable efforts to stop trafficking in medicines that are often fatal to consumers," said World Customs Organization (WCO) Secretary General Kunio Mikuriya.

"The FDA will continue to work closely with our domestic and international law enforcement and regulatory partners to protect consumers from unapproved and potentially harmful products sold over the Internet," said Dara Corrigan, FDA associate commissioner for regulatory affairs. "We will continue to aggressively pursue those who sell products which may pose a significant risk to consumer health."

"Counterfeit medicines pose a serious threat to public health and safety, and those who engage in this illicit practice have no concern for the well-being of patients," said Pfizer Vice President and Chief Security Officer John Clark. "At Pfizer there is no higher priority than ensuring that every patient who purchases a Pfizer medicine receives an authentic product. The risk is even greater for those who purchase their medicines online from untrusted sources. That is why the relationships we have forged with the international law enforcement community, such as the collaboration exhibited during Operation Pangea IV, are so vital to making sure that patients receive safe and effective medicines."

Investigations are continuing and the final results from Operation Pangea IV will be released upon their conclusion.

The U.S. coordinating body, the IPR Center, is one of the U.S. government's key weapons in the fight against criminal counterfeiting and piracy. As a task force, the IPR Center uses the expertise of its 19 member agencies to share information, develop initiatives, coordinate enforcement actions, and conduct investigations related to IP theft. Through this strategic interagency partnership, the IPR Center protects the public's health and safety, the U.S. economy and the war fighters.

To report IP theft or to learn more about the IPR Center, visit www.IPRCenter.gov.