Tons of illicit medicines seized in Interpol West African operation


More than 420 tons of illicit pharmaceutical and medical products were seized in an Interpol co-ordinated operation in West Africa.

Operation Heera involved 1,150 law enforcement officials from police, customs and health regulatory agencies in seven countries – Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Togo – working to dismantle illicit factories and supply chains over a four week period.

Raids on markets, shops, pharmacies, warehouses, vehicles and illicit factories saw the seizure of more than 41 million pills and 13 000 cartons of illicit pharmaceutical and medical goods worth approximately $ 21.8 million. About 150 people were either arrested or placed under investigation.

Seized goods included health supplements, herbal products, analgesics, antibiotics, anti-malarial medicine, vitamins, mineral supplements, as well as printing and packaging equipment.
“Initiatives such as Operation Heera not only protect the public from potentially unsafe goods, they also help dismantle illegal networks which are often connected to other forms of serious crime,” said Interpol Executive Director of Police Services, Tim Morris.
“Through its global network and policing capabilities, Interpol’s role is vital in shaping a co-ordinated response in regional and international operations. Collaboration is key to our collective success,” he added.

As part of the operation, 100 tons of illicit medicines hidden in trucks carrying fruit were seized in Koro, Benin. The trucks allegedly originated from Guinea and were destined for countries throughout the region.
“Police in Benin are committed to fighting illicit trade because of the dangers this type of crime poses to consumers and the need to identify and disrupt criminal groups behind it. Our country encourages and supports Interpol efforts fighting organised crime through initiatives such as Operation Heera,” said Interpol National Central Bureau in Benin head, Médard Woudecon.

Oumar Aimé Toe, Secretary-General of Côte d’Ivoire’s Committee Against Illicit Trafficking and Counterfeit Medicines (COTRAMED), said: “In addition to dismantling illicit factories and criminal networks, the operation was important in alerting the public to the risk of fake and illicit medicines. Police, gendarmerie, customs, health and judicial authorities in Côte d’Ivoire remain steadfast in combating pharmaceutical crime.”