Pangea IV - International internet week of action against illegal sale of medicines on the internet
The Federal Ministry of Finance, Federal Ministry of the Interior and Federal Ministry of Health jointly participated in Operation Pangea IV.
Press Release, 29 September 2011
The Austrian customs service, Federal Criminal Police Office, and the Federal Office for Safety in Health Care participated jointly in an international week of action aimed at combating the sale of illegal medicines on the internet. Eighty-four countries worldwide – including Austria – joined in Operation Pangea IV during the period 20-29 September 2011.
The anti-fraud unit within the Austrian customs service placed its focus in the week of action on the control of postal consignments. Since most purchases of illegal medicines take place over the internet, they reach Austria by post. In their controls, the Austrian customs authorities concentrated on the customs office at the mail distribution centre of Vienna-Inzersdorf. During the period of action, two seizures took place totalling 960 tablets and 240 ml medicines subject to licensing requirements.
The internet and cyber-crime team of the Graz customs investigation service was also involved in the action week, and in the case of the confiscated consignments was able to identify the website via which both recipients had ordered their products. Moreover, during the monitoring phase of the operation, a further five internet sites were identified and referred to the World Customs Organization and Interpol for the purpose of closure.
"Through our anti-fraud units, we are taking positive action against the illegal practices of organized criminals. Through seizing fake medicines and destroying them, both public health and the economy are being protected," declared Finance Minister Dr Maria Fekter, underlining the importance of such concerted weeks of action.
Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner also stressed: "The medium of the internet is being increasingly used for criminal dealings, and this includes abuse for the purpose of unlawful sale of illegal medicines. The Ministry of the Interior therefore places a clear focus on combating such activities." The investigations conducted by the Federal Criminal Police Office within the framework of the action are still ongoing.
The online sale of fake medicines is booming, and is extremely lucrative. One kilogramme of fake Viagra makes more profit than a kilo of heroin. According to the Product Piracy Report by the Federal Ministry of Finance, in 2009 a total of 27,095 medicines were seized from 593 consignments.
Alois Stöger, Health Minister, points out that he has already ensured a prohibition on the purchase of medicines over the internet through the Austrian Medicinal Products Import Act 2010, and he adds, "Collaboration between the authorities and institutions concerned is thereby reinforced and pushed forward for the benefit of consumers. This annual week of action is a good example of this."
The Federal Office for Safety in Health Care (BASG) confiscated 1,391 packages of illegal proprietary medicines during the week of action. "These medicines contained an active pharmaceutical ingredient in a seemingly harmless 'food supplement'", confirms Univ.-Prof. Dr. Marcus Müllner, head of the BASG. Confiscation of the goods means the stopping of internet sales. "Criminal proceedings have already been instituted. Since many websites serving as a hub for internet sales have an '.at' ending, proceedings have also been instituted across Austria to withdraw such identifiers from the relevant distributors. We would urgently warn consumers against buying medicines via the internet," adds Müllner.
Finance Minister Fekter backs this warning: "Consumers are not in a position to assess the health risk posed by medicines from the internet. Fakes from the internet often contain bogus active ingredients or incorrect doses which may have incalculable effects on health," she concludes.
Overall, all ministries and organizations involved declared themselves satisfied with the outcome of the week of action, and above all also with the positive collaboration between departments.