Latin America / Covid-19

Exchange of experiences on the trafficking of vaccines and other COVID medicines

01 March 2021
COVID

Organised crime has adapted to the new forms of crime derived from the health crisis and is now trying to take advantage of the production, distribution and management of vaccines to engage in criminal activities. A fact already detected by organisations such as Interpol, Europol, Ameripol and the Medicrime Convention of the Council of Europe. That is why the 13 Latin American countries present at the working meeting that was organised by the EU programme, EL PAcCTO, have shared their experience with representatives from public prosecutors’ offices, the police and penal institutions.

The exchange of experiences, coordination and cooperation on vaccine trafficking is essential at a time when many countries are initiating or developing mass vaccination processes for the population. In addition, EL PAcCTO has proposed the creation of a secure information channel so that prosecutors, judges and prison systems can speak together and exchange experiences. The goal: to be more effective against criminal organisations in times of pandemic.

The meeting also highlighted the need to carry out communication campaigns for citizens to make them aware of the risks they face and the modus operandi of this particular crime. In addition, from the point of view of prison administrations, the need has been raised to vaccinate prison staff and detainees in a rapid and transparent manner.

Coordination and communication to avoid counterfeit COVID vaccines

Don Bruckschen, Criminal Intelligence Officer of Interpol’s Illicit Markets Branch, has acknowledged that “organised crime is adapting to the new situation and that organisations have started to illegally produce and sell vaccines“. Interpol has detected cases of financial fraud “where criminals contact a country saying that they sell millions of vaccines and offer documents as if they were representatives of pharmaceutical companies”. To avoid fraud, one of the solutions proposed is to have the local contacts of companies that are responsible for the production of vaccines.

The Council of Europe’s Medicrime Convention is the first and only international treaty which regulates counterfeit medical products. Oscar Alarcón Jiménez highlighted that “the counterfeiting of medical products is a global problem and violates human rights”. In addition, it is a business which is 25 times more profitable than drug trafficking due, in part, to the absence of a legal framework.

From Europol, Sergio Tirró, head of the Anti-Counterfeiting Unit, explained that currently websites can appear that sell false negative COVID certificates. Additionally, there is a risk of corruption throughout the vaccine deployment process and criminals can spread fake vaccine news to defraud individuals and businesses.

Experience in Latin America in the fight against vaccine trafficking

And Ameripol has been able to report on the progress made by Operation Link II against vaccine trafficking. The objective of this initiative is to locate and identify, on a global level, criminal networks planning to smuggle, counterfeit and traffic COVID-19 vaccines. The countries that make up the Ameripol police force, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and the Dominican Republic, as well as Interpol, Europol and OLAF, are all participating in this simultaneous operation.

The Deputy Attorney General of Brazil, Célia Delgado explained that the “federal police are investigating more than two thousand sites that are selling fake vaccines on the Internet”. The measure led the Ministry of Justice to launch the “Pirate vaccine, no!” campaign to alert consumers to the marketing of counterfeit products. Corina Fernández Ulloa, representative for the Judicial Investigation Department of Costa Rica, was able to share her experiences on the management of the health crisis and the problems derived from the management of vaccines, highlighting the promotion of cooperation between national, regional and bi-regional authorities to face a problem that affects us all.

EL PAcCTO will continue to assist all those countries that ask for it to strengthen the fight against criminal organisations that try to profit from counterfeiting vaccines or any other type of medicine related to COVID-19.