Interpol warns of fake vaccines targeting the desperate in SA

29 December 2020 - 13:39
Buyer beware - fake vaccines have been advertised for sale in SA.
Buyer beware - fake vaccines have been advertised for sale in SA.
Image: 123RF/David Izquierdo Roger

Interpol has put out a “purple notice” after SA police recently found a warehouse containing several hundred ampoules of illicit, unregistered Covid-19 vaccines and counterfeit masks estimated to be valued at R6m.

According to the International Criminal Police Organisation (or Interpol), a purple notice provides information on modus operandi, objects, devices and concealment methods used by criminals.

On December 2, Interpol issued a global alert to law enforcement across its 194-member countries warning them to prepare for organised crime networks targeting Covid-19 vaccines, both physically and online.

This was after Gauteng police busted an operation selling fake vaccines and masks operating from two warehouses at Growthpoint Industrial Park at Bell Street, Meadowdale, Germiston, on November 19.

According to SAPS national spokesperson Brig Vish Naidoo, the intelligence-driven operation, involved K-9 Benoni, West Rand K-9, Randburg police and customs and excise personnel.

“During the operation a large quantity of counterfeit 3M-branded N95 masks and hundreds of ampoules of illicit, unregistered Covid-19 vaccine was discovered on the premises,” he said.

“The masks alone were estimated at R6m but the value of the 'vaccine' could not be established at that time.

“Following further investigations, another warehouse was identified and searched, where a huge amount of counterfeit clothing and shoes were discovered and seized.”

The suspects have been identified as a Zambian and a person from China.

According to Interpol, the fake products had been advertised on Chinese social media app WeChat South Africa.

The Interpol notice says the import documentation for the vaccines was incorrectly declared as cosmetic injections.

The 400 ampoules of fake vaccines and masks were imported from Singapore to SA from a legal company through OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.

The case is ongoing.

Alongside the warning of organised crime targeting vaccines, Interpol also warned of the dangers of ordering potentially life-threatening products online after their cybercrime unit revealed that of 3,000 websites associated with online pharmacies suspected of selling illicit medicines and medical devices, about 1,700 contained cyber threats, especially phishing and spamming malware.

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