A man from Hackney has been arrested for money-laundering as part of a pan-European police investigation into an organised crime gang behind the multi-million pound sale of counterfeit medicines online.
The 62-year-old man was arrested on Monday morning along with another man in Barnet as officers from the London Regional Asset Recovery Team (LRART) raided seven addresses in Hackney, Barnet and Watford.
Police suspect that the two men were behind the money-laundering part of the scam which has cost victims almost £12m since it appeared on more than 400 websites since March 2012. The potentially lethal fake drugs – advertised as cures for impotency, dieting pills and anti-smoking aids – were manufactured in Asia before being distributed around the world, mostly in Europe.
At the same time as the arrests in London, police in Austria were also taking action against the gang as part of a joint investigation formed by EU anti-organised crime task force EUROJUST. The multinational team has seized around 300,000 of the illegal pills since its formation in September 2012.
Detective Chief Superintendent Tom Manson, of the MPS Specialist, Organised and Economic Crime Command, part of LRART, said: “Today’s operation with our counterparts in Austria and Europol has been about taking down a highly organised crime group who make an incredible amount of money by selling potentially harmful drugs to unsuspecting members of the public, some of whom are in the UK.”
“These so-called medicines are peddled on very professional looking websites which feature convincing medical advice, but the people behind them have no medical training. When you buy a product from these websites, you have no idea what concoctions you are actually getting or the conditions in which they have been made. Drugs sold on such websites frequently contain harmful ingredients and have been made in unhygienic conditions.”
Police understand that the victims’ online payments were processed through a legitimate company based in the UK before being directed into two bank accounts thought to belong to the two men, who then laundered the money through the bank accounts of a UK charity.
The men have been arrested under suspicion of money laundering, fraud and supplying false or misleading information to the Commission – under the 2011 Charities Act – and are currently being held at a police station in north London while the investigation continues.