More than 420 tonnes of illicit pharmaceutical and medical products have been seized in an operation in West Africa coordinated by INTERPOL.

Operation Heera (15 May – 17 June) involved some 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 – who sought to dismantle illicit factories and supply chains.

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

Seized goods included health supplements, herbal products, analgesics, antibiotics, antimalarial medicine, vitamins, mineral supplements, as well as printing and packaging equipment.

“Initiatives such as Operation Heera not only aim to protect the public from potentially unsafe goods, they also help to dismantle illegal networks which are often connected to other forms of serious crime,” said INTERPOL’s Executive Director of Police Services, Tim Morris.

“Through its global network and policing capabilities, INTERPOL’s role is vital in shaping a coordinated response in regional and international operations. Collaboration is key to our collective success,” added Mr Morris.

As part of the operation, 100 tonnes of illicit medicines concealed in trucks carrying fruit were seized in Koro, Benin. The trucks allegedly originated from Guinea and were destined for countries throughout the region.

“The police in Benin is committed to fighting illicit trade because of the dangers this type of crime poses to consumers and the need to identify and disrupt the criminal groups behind it. Our country encourages and supports the efforts of INTERPOL in fighting organized crime through initiatives such as Operation Heera,” said the Head of the INTERPOL National Central Bureau in Benin, 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 played an important role in alerting the public as to the risk of fake and illicit medicines. The police, gendarmerie, customs, health and judicial authorities in Côte d’Ivoire will remain steadfast in combating pharmaceutical crime.”