Coronavirus Outbreak: Indian firms under scanner for selling fake COVID-19 medicines to European countries

Fraudulent documents and certificates are used to traffic counterfeit products related to coronavirus outbreak.

Yatish Yadav May 01, 2020 14:49:35 IST
Coronavirus Outbreak: Indian firms under scanner for selling fake COVID-19 medicines to European countries

New Delhi: As the world's most powerful nations confront the coronavirus pandemic, the organised criminal groups operating from Europe in nexus with illegal Indian and Chinese companies, are selling counterfeit products including medicines, masks and protective kits to make a quick profit.

Coronavirus Outbreak Indian firms under scanner for selling fake COVID19 medicines to European countries

Representational image. Getty Images

This pandemic profiteering is spread across the worst-hit countries like Italy, Spain and France with the fake goods originating from India and China are being shipped through a complex distribution chain using the transit countries like Turkey and Ukraine. According to Europol, the European Union's law enforcement cooperation agency, illicit goods are dispatched from various frequently changing addresses, which makes the detection of parcels and identification of the original sender difficult.

An official from the Netherlands-based Europol told Firstpost that several law enforcement agencies in Europe during the investigation collected the names of Indian companies, which are involved in trafficking counterfeit corona drugs and test kits to Europe. Their names cannot be disclosed at this juncture because the operation against the cartel is still going on in the concerned countries.

“Member states are conducting searches and investigation based on criminal information is moving swiftly. I can only say that several Indian companies and their networks are being examined and suitable action is being planned by the member states,” the Europol official said.

Europol investigation report reveals that companies targeting Europe for distribution of counterfeit pharmaceutical products and equipment are registered both within and outside Europe. Among Europe, these companies are registered at addresses mainly in Bulgaria, Germany, Netherlands, Poland and outside in China, India and the United States.
Europol further said the companies trading in counterfeit goods are highly diverse and suspects are quickly creating front companies to camouflage their activities.

As per Europol, most of the suspects in touch with Indian and Chinese companies are concentrated in Poland, Romania, Ukraine, France, Italy, France, Netherlands, Finland, Spain, Belgium, UK, Sweden and Algeria. The criminal network working like a well-oiled machine is producing and distributing counterfeit face masks, fake corona test kits, disposable latex gloves, sanitisers, disinfectants, antiviral medicines like chloroquine, favipiravir and azithromycin.

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Europol said while counterfeit products threaten the safety of medical staff and the general public, it is also generating significant illicit profit for the criminals involved. As far as the modus operandi of the criminal cartel is concerned, Europol said they are using both dark web and shops to lure the buyers after the products are trafficked in bulk to European countries using maritime containers as well as parcels transported via air freight.

Fraudulent documents and certificates are used to traffic counterfeit products related to coronavirus outbreak. It said as soon as reports about chloroquine as a potential treatment option appeared in public, the domestic criminal cartel in European countries got active on the dark web.

The counterfeit Chloroquine offered by companies and websites on dark web carried similar numbers to that of the United States to obscure the origin as well as suppliers. In European countries, the number of vendors offering Chloroquine has suddenly increased in the first week of April.

Besides, investigators have found chloroquine is sold through dark web market place on Dark Bay, Bitbazaar and Yellow Brick etc. This was despite the fact that the European Medicines Agency had advised that chloroquine only to be used in clinical trials or in emergency use because its efficacy in treating COVID-19 was yet to be established.

Europol suspects that the demand for these type of counterfeit products has surged and will continue throughout the current crisis despite potentially significant detrimental consequences for the health of consumers.

A significant number of new websites were also established to make a profit during the pandemic. These companies and websites offering fake coronavirus related products are also accepting various payment methods like credit cards, cryptocurrencies and even payment on delivery.

Europol said profits obtained from the trade of these goods are substantial, however, little information is available on the illegal money flow to the associates. Initial investigation suggests that a significant proportion of the profits are laundered to China and India using cash-intensive business as a front.

Europol and members states have intensified monitoring of online platforms and also launched multi-disciplinary operations to combat the distribution of counterfeit products.

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