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Intellectual Property Rights

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

WASHINGTON - More than 40 countries have taken part in an international week of action targeting the online sale of counterfeit and illegal medicines to raise awareness of the associated health risks, resulting in arrests across the globe and the seizure of thousands of potentially harmful medicines.

Focusing on websites supplying illegal and dangerous medicines, Operation Pangea III 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 Oct. 5 and 12 , 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.

Operation Pangea III increased participating countries over last year's operation from 24 to 45.

The U.S. operation, managed by the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center, included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations (ICE), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Operations were conducted at mail facilities in Chicago, New York, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Memphis, Tenn., and Louisville, Ky.

With 31 countries reporting their results to date, Internet monitoring revealed 694 websites engaged in illegal activity, including offering controlled or prescription-only drugs, 290 websites have now been taken down. In addition, more than 267,855 packages were inspected by regulators and customs, 10,916 packages were seized as containing counterfeits and more than 1,014,043 illicit and counterfeit pills - including antidepressants, antibiotics, steroids, arthritis medicine, lifestyle drugs and diet pills - were confiscated. Seized pharmaceuticals are estimated to be worth $2,598,163. During the operation, 76 individuals were arrested and are under investigation for a range of offenses, including illegally selling and supplying unlicensed or prescription-only medicines. Some 98 search warrants were executed.

"Through a multi-sector operation involving law enforcement and health, INTERPOL's key objective in Operation Pangea III was to alert and protect members of the public by assisting our 188 member countries to shut down illegal pharmaceutical websites, chase money flows and backtrack to the sources behind these illicit pharmaceutical products which represent such a threat to the health of the public," said Secretary General Ronald K. Noble, pointing to the importance of key international partnerships involving INTERPOL and international bodies such as the World Health Organization and the World Customs Organization.

"Operations like this highlight why international partnerships are such an essential weapon in the fight against trafficking of counterfeit pharmaceuticals," said Director John Morton of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which leads the IPR Center in Arlington, Va. "People who purchase drugs should never have to be put at risk because the product is fake, unsafe or untested."

"Keeping unsafe products from entering the United States is a priority for U.S. Customs and Border Protection," said CBP Commissioner Alan Bersin. "I'm delighted to be a part of an international collaboration that is potentially protecting not just the U.S. but consumers from the 45 participating countries. This is a testament to what partnerships can accomplish."

Among the countries participating this year, in addition to the United States, were:

Angola, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium , Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, China, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovak Republlic, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and Uruguay. Investigations are continuing, with the final results from Operation Pangea III to be released at the conclusion.

The U.S. coordinating body, the IPR Center, is one of the U.S. Government's key weapons in the fight against IP theft.  The IPR Center offers one-stop shopping for both law enforcement and the private sector to address the growing transnational threat of counterfeit merchandise.  The IPR Center coordinates outreach to U.S. rights holders and conducts domestic and international law enforcement training to stem the growing counterfeiting threat as well as coordinating and directing anti-counterfeiting investigations. To learn more about the IPR Center, read tips for holiday buying and see the Intellectual Property Rights Seizure Statistics for FY 2009, go to www.ice.gov