HK Customs smashes international ring of counterfeit medicine

26 Jan 2007

Hong Kong Customs yesterday (January 25) neutralised an international syndicate of counterfeit drugs, covering medicine for treating heart disease, male impotence, anti-viral drugs against influenza and slimming drugs.

The syndicate was suspected of engaging in transnational sales activities of counterfeit drugs, with drugs targeting at markets in Europe, United States, Australia and India. Initial Customs investigation showed that the counterfeit drugs were not for sale in the Hong Kong market.

In an undercover operation codenamed "King Fisher", Customs officers seized a total of about 470,000 tablets of counterfeit drugs. It was estimated that genuine drugs of the same quantity could fetch about US$2.4 million (HK$19 million) when retailed.

According to Government Chemist's analysis, the counterfeit drugs do not contain harmful substance. Neither do they contain the medical ingredients as the genuine products.

A 37-year-old man, a Hong Kong resident and of South East Asian ethnicity, believed to be the mastermind of the syndicate, was caught at a hotel in Hong Kong yesterday (January 25).

Briefing the media, the Head of Intellectual Property Investigation Bureau, Mr Ben Ho, today (January 26) said that the success of the operation had demonstrated once again the steadfast commitment of Hong Kong Customs to partnering with the pharmaceutical industry in the eradication of counterfeiting activities. "Our collaboration with four major pharmaceutical companies in this operation is unprecedented."

Based on information provided by the four pharmaceutical companies, Hong Kong Customs carried out investigations and suspected that a syndicate had been operating behind numerous bogus email addresses, masked telephone numbers and false identities over the Internet in a bid to tap into the international underground distribution network.

The mastermind was caught red-handed yesterday (January 25) at a hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong during a negotiation with an undercover agent from Hong Kong Customs for the sale of large quantities of counterfeit medicines destined for India and other various countries. The contract was worth US$3,000 for about 20,000 tablets of counterfeit drugs.

In follow-up investigations, Hong Kong Customs officers uncovered further seizure at a packaging centre and a storage in Kwai Chung. Another 450,000 tablets were found.

If members of the public suspect that they have bought any counterfeit drugs, they are encouraged to call the trade mark owners.

If members of the public come across any suspected trade mark infringement activities, they are advised to call the Customs 24-hour hotline 2545 6182.

If they are concerned with their health for having taken counterfeit drugs, they should seek medical advice promptly.

Mr Ben Ho said "With sustained rigorous enforcement actions, the number of retail level of counterfeit cases have dropped from 32 in 2005 to five in 2006."

He reiterated that Hong Kong Customs would continue to guard against counterfeit drugs activities in various levels.

Anyone who contravenes the Trade Descriptions Ordinance is liable to prosecution. The maximum penalty is a fine of $500,000 and an imprisonment for five years.

Ends/Friday, January 26, 2007

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