Police and regulatory officers in Greater Manchester have broken up an unlicensed prescription drug empire said to have been worth millions of pounds.
Investigators from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which regulates medication and medical devices in the UK, raided five locations across Bolton on Wednesday morning, seizing large quantities of drugs.
Officers confiscated prescription-only medication including erectile dysfunction pills, hair loss treatment, steroids, and drugs used to treat sleep disorder narcolepsy.
The raid resulted in the arrest of four men, who were held on suspicion of money laundering, and conspiracy to supply medicines and controlled drugs.
The suspects, aged 44, 41, 39 and 34, were taken into custody and questioned by MHRA officers.
Commenting on the raids in a statement, MHRA Head of Enforcement Alastair Jeffrey said: “It is a serious criminal offence to sell potent unlicensed or prescription-only medicines.
“Today’s arrests are a result of a determined investigation by teams dedicated to protecting public health.
“We work relentlessly with regulatory and law enforcement colleagues to identify and prosecute those involved.
“Those who sell medicines illegally are exploiting vulnerable people and have no regard for their health. Prescription only medicines are potent and should only be taken under medical supervision.”
The MHRA is currently running a public information campaign intended to educate people about the dangers of buying potentially dangerous drugs and medicines from unlicensed sources such as illicit online pharmacies.
Promoting the #FakeMeds campaign in November last year, the MHRA released the results of a survey that showed one in three people looking to use weight in the UK have tried slimming pills they purchased online, and that more than four in ten (44%) from the internet because they did not want to speak to a GP or pharmacist.
In all, the MHRA estimates that more than half of all medicines bought online in the UK are fake.
Earlier this year, an MHRA probe revealed that organised criminal gangs operating in Britain routinely bribe crooked pharmacists and drug wholesalers to supply them with prescription medication illegally.
The agency said it made 40 arrests linked to the diversion of legitimate pharmaceutical products in 2017, including five pharmacists, who were suspended from practice.
Speaking at the time, Jeffrey said: “Selling medicines outside of the regulated supply chain is a serious criminal offence and we are working relentlessly with regulatory and law enforcement colleagues to identify and prosecute all those involved in this activity.
“The medicines being sold are potent and should only be taken under medical supervision. Criminals involved are exploiting people when they are at their most vulnerable; their only objective is to make money.
“We will continue to concentrate our efforts on identifying the criminals involved and ensure they are prosecuted through the courts.”
US court charges Saudi men with firearms trafficking offences in their absence
Prosecutors in the US have charged three men from Saudi Arabia with illegally purchasing firearms parts worth an estimated $100,000 while in America on student visas and attempting to smuggle them back to their home country.
In a five-count indictment returned last week, Hatim Humeed Alsufyani, 36, and 27-year-old Mosab Alzahrani, both of whom previously resided in San Bernardino, California, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to smuggle goods out of America without obtaining the proper export licences.
Both men were also charged with counts of knowingly exporting weapons parts without a licence.
It is understood the pair are currently back in Saudi Arabia.
In a separate indictment, Mohammed Alabdulwahab, 30, who is also said to have lived in Los Angeles at the time the offences were committed, was charged with 15 counts of smuggling and 15 counts of knowingly exporting firearms parts from the US without first having obtained an export licence from the State Department.
Alabdulwahab is also thought to currently be living back in the kingdom.
Prosecutors allege that Alsufyani and Alzahrani plotted to traffic rifle barrels, rifle triggers and other items related to firearms out of the US to their home country in their checked luggage on flights from Los Angeles.
The pair are said to have falsely identified the firearms parts as “shower curtain rods” or “car parts” when passing through customs checks.
It is also alleged that Alabdulwahab got in touch with US-based firearms parts retailers in 2018 in order to buy parts for the purpose of illegally exporting them to Saudi Arabia.
Alsufyani could face a maximum penalty of 65 years behind bars if convicted of all the charges he faces, while Alzahrani could be handed a 25-year maximum jail term.
Alabdulwahab could face a maximum jail term of 10 years for each smuggling count he has been charged with, and 20 years for each violation of the Arms Export Control Act.
The US and Saudi Arabia do not have a formal extradition treaty, meaning the Kingdom does not send its citizens accused of crimes to America to face justice.
Last month, Oregon Live reported that Democratic Senator Ron Wyden had won approval for a new bill that could force the White House to disclose what it knows about the Saudi Arabian government’s alleged role in removing its citizens from the US to escape prosecution.
If it passes into law, the Saudi Fugitives Declassification Act would compel US authorities to declassify all information relating to how the Saudi government may have helped accused criminals leave the country.
Trafficking victims rescued in Mali during Interpol-backed crackdown on forced labour and other forms of exploitation
An Interpol-backed operation in Mali has resulted in the rescue of 64 women and girls who are thought to have been victims of human trafficking and people smuggling gangs.
In a statement, the global law enforcement agency said Operation Horonya saw the victims, who were from several African countries including Burkina Faso, Guinea and Nigeria, rescued from a life of forced labour, prostitution and forced begging.
The operation, which took place last month, involved local investigators targeting known trafficking hotspots, and resulted in suspected trafficking victims being rescued from settings including bars, residential properties and mining sites.
Three young boys were rescued from an illegal Islamic school, where they were said to have been compelled to beg for money.
Interpol said the operation has so far led to the arrest of four suspected traffickers, and that ongoing lines of enquiry could result in the detention of others.
As part of the initiative, law enforcement officers checked travellers’ passports at Bamako international airport, screening travel documents against a range of Interpol databases via I-24/7, the agency’s secure global police communications network.
Interpol said the effort highlighted a regional connection between human trafficking and organised criminal networks, and noted that suspected victims had been exploited in different countries before they arrived in Mali.
After their rescue, victims were offered protection and support from the International Organisation for Migration, as well as local NGO War Against Human Trafficking.
Commenting on the success of the operation, Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock said: “Mali serves as major transit country for human traffickers who target the most vulnerable members of society.
“With victims from a range of countries, this operation showed that human trafficking and people smuggling is a truly transnational problem.
“Interpol’s role to connect police agencies across the world is essential in fighting these terrible crimes, and we will continue to work with our member countries to make sure they get the support they need.”
Operation Adwenpa IV involved more than 200 officers from law enforcement agencies in 13 countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
Many of the children rescued in that operation were discovered around the land border between Benin and Niger.
Scientists create fake rhino horn in effort to thwart poachers
Researchers at the University of Oxford and Fudan University in Shanghai have created a way of synthesising fake rhino horn.
The scientists believe the method has the potential to undermine the illicit market for the genuine article.
It is hoped that the process, which involves making bogus rhino horn from horse hair, will allow for the production of enough fake horn to flood the illegal market, preventing poachers from making a profit.
Detailing the process in a paper published in Scientific Reports, the researchers note that rhino horn is not a horn in the same way that the horn of a cow is, but is in fact a tuft of tightly packed hair that grows from the animal’s nose.
Gluing together hairs from horses, which as a species are closely related to rhinos, the scientists were able to produce fake horns that retain the feel and general properties of the real thing.
The researchers said the resultant product, which is cheap and relatively straightforward to make, can be used to confuse buyers of rhino horn.
They hope the process can be refined and then used to confuse the participants in the illicit rhino horn trade, depress prices and support the conservation of rhinos, some species of which are critically endangered.
Many people in some Asian countries believe wrongly that rhino horn has medicinal and aphrodisiac qualities.
In order to perpetuate such myths, poachers and wildlife smugglers often cut rhino horn with erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra to make buyers believe their products are having the desired effect.
Ruixin Mi from the Department of Macromolecular Science at Fudan University, one of the report’s co-authors, said in a statement: “Our study demonstrates that materials science can contribute to fundamental issues in biology and conservation.
“The fundamental structure of the rhino horn is a highly evolved and tough fibre reinforced bio-composite and we hope that our attempts to copy it will not only undermine the trade in rhino horn but might also find uses as a novel bio-inspired material.”
Richard Sheridan, 50, was extradited to the US from England to appear at a court in Miami, where he pleaded guilty to smuggling the cup.
- Misery, not hedonism, appears to be driving increased drug use among Gen Xers and Boomers
- US court charges Saudi men with firearms trafficking offences in their absence
- Over-90s admitted to English hospitals after cocaine use rises 10-fold in little over a decade
- Trafficking victims rescued in Mali during Interpol-backed crackdown on forced labour and other forms of exploitation
- Scientists create fake rhino horn in effort to thwart poachers
9 February 2018
9 February 2018
8 February 2018
28 November 2017
28 November 2017
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