Among the 334,000 packages inspected and 170,340 seized by customs and regulatory authorities during the week of action (30 May – 7 June) were fake and illicit slimming pills, anti-malarial and cholesterol medication, erectile dysfunction pills, hair loss treatments and nutrition products.
Operation Pangea has seen 393 arrests worldwide and the seizure of more than $53m (€46.89m) worth of potentially dangerous medicines.
Among the individuals arrested was a 29-year-old man from California who sold the toxic fat burner 2.4-dinitrophenol (DNP) on eBay as a weight loss product between August 2013 and January 2014.
“One US customer died in October 2013 as a result of DNP ingestion and in May this year, the seller pleaded guilty to one count of introducing an unapproved drug into interstate commerce,” INTERPOL said in a statement to press.
Last year DNP fell into the unfortunate spotlight in Europe after one woman died in the UK and a French man was taken seriously ill after taking the substance bought online, prompting INTERPOL to issue an ‘Orange Notice’ warning about at the time.
Closing the web
At the inquest of the UK victim, 21-year-old Eloise Aimee Parry, the investigating officer commented that one key difficulty in tackling DNP trade was that authorities could shut down one website only to have a crop of others pop up in an almost identical format just hours later.
Through partnership with private companies like MasterCard and PayPal, the Operation Pangea investigators were able to suspend 4,932 websites selling illicit pharmaceuticals overall.
Commenting on the operation, INTERPOL executive director of police services Tim Morris said: “Whilst the seizures on the ground prevent these potentially lethal drugs and products from reaching unsuspecting consumers, equally as important is shutting down the websites through which these criminals operate.”
“Raising public awareness about the dangers of buying medicines online is essential if we are to choke off this source of funding for organised crime which is making significant profits at the cost of people’s health and safety.”
Other high profile cases within Operation Pangea included the seizure of some 65,000 anxiety medication tablets hidden in the back seat of a car and inside the spare wheel in Hungary in a method reminiscent of narcotics smuggling, INTERPOL said.
An underground laboratory producing fake medication and steroids was also discovered in Austria and Myanmar authorities seized illicit anti-cancer medication and in Singapore, anabolic steroids, sleeping pills, pregnancy test kits and drugs for infertility and weight loss were also recovered.
This is not the end of the investigation however, a further 700 investigations have now been launched by national authorities globally with about 40 cases directly linked to organised crime.
Albania, Angola, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belgium, Benin, Bhutan, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Cambodia,
Canada, Chad, Chile, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ecuador, Egypt, Estonia, Fiji, Finland, France, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Korea, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, Montenegro, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, USA, Vietnam and Zambia.