Online purchased counterfeit and illicit medicines confiscated in Cyprus has tripled from previous years, according to a global Interpol operation conducted this month.
Cyprus police spokesman Andreas Angelides said that during the week-long operation in 116 countries, a total of 1,811 packages were examined at local post offices and at Larnaca International Airport.
Four operations took place in Cyprus to locate counterfeit medicines under Operation Pangea XI, a global cooperative effort, led by Interpol, to combat the unlawful sale and distribution of illegal and potentially counterfeit medical products sold on the internet.
It is the eighth year that Cyprus participates in Pangea.
Angelides said nine packages were retained/seized for further investigation, since they contained counterfeit, illegal or unlicensed pharmaceutical medicines and noted that four people were arrested for offences in violation of the Medicine Law.
A total of 24,436 fake medicines were seized and will be sent for analysis with their estimated value exceeding $72,000 (€63,100).
During this year’s operation various types of pharmaceuticals were seized, including anabolic substances, medications for the treatment of erectile dysfunction, dietary supplements containing prohibited drugs, weight loss supplements, local anaesthesia drugs and medicine to regulate thyroid function.
Customs Department official Christos Christou said the volume of goods imported daily into Cyprus makes it impossible to control everyone and urged the public to exercise caution before making any purchases on the Internet for commercial or personal use.
Worldwide, Operation Pangea led to 859 arrests and yielded items worth in the region of €12.2 mln. These included anti-inflammatory medication, painkillers, erectile dysfunction pills and even HIV medicines.
Almost one million packages were inspected during the week of action (9 – 16 October), with 500 tonnes of illicit pharmaceuticals seized worldwide.
This is the 11th annual crackdown on fake medicines and Interpol secretary general Jurgen Stock said more packages were seized this year but the number of pills was lower.
“The actions of the police, customs and health regulatory agencies working together have forced the criminals operating illicit online pharmacies to change their modus operandi,” he said.
“Criminals are now shipping packages containing smaller number of pills and tablets to try and avoid the more stringent checks which have become routine in many countries as a result of the Pangea operations,” he added.
Offenders are also coming up with more creative ways to smuggle their goods past customs officials. In Poland, authorities found counterfeit contraceptive pills hidden inside DVDs while in Ireland sleeping pills were found inside a hollowed-out book.