On Wednesday Interpol announced that police in South Africa managed to seize hundreds of illicit Covid-19 vaccines found at a warehouse in Germiston, Gauteng.
The police’s Colonel Brenda Muridili said that on 18 November 2020 Gauteng Organized Crime Narcotics acted on intelligence received about the smuggling, storing and distributing of Covid-19 vaccines. The next day a multi-disciplinary team followed through with a tactical disruptive operation at the storage facility in the Growthpoint Industrial Park, Bell Street in Meadowdale, Germiston.
During their search, counterfeit 3M-branded N95 masks valued at R6 000 000 and 400 ampoules, equalling 2400 doses, of an illicit Covid-19 vaccine were found. Four people were arrested on charges of contravention of the Counterfeit Goods Act, contravention of the Customs and Excise Act (for false declaration of goods) as well as contravention of the Medicines and Related Substances Act.
“The arrests came just weeks after INTERPOL issued an Orange Notice warning law enforcement to prepare for organized crime networks targeting COVID-19 vaccines, both physically and online. The alert also included details and images of genuine vaccines and authorized shipping methods provided by pharmaceutical companies to assist in the identification of fake vials,” Interpol says.
In addition, Interpol reported that the Chinese police managed to recognise an illegal network and seized more than 3000 vaccines on the scene and arrested 80 suspects.
“Whilst we welcome this result, this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to COVID-19 vaccine related crime,” Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock says.
South African Police National Spokesperson, Brigadier Vish Naidoo, said that the country has employed an integrated multi-disciplinary law enforcement approach since traces of Covid-19 was detected in South Africa.
Naidoo added that this operation has proven that to be effective as they have prevented the sale of fake vaccines to unsuspecting people.
The suspects have since appeared in court twice and are currently out on bail. Their case has been postponed to 28 May 2021.
Interpol warns the public to refrain from buying vaccines advertised online or on the dark web as they are not legitimate and may pose dangers.