Hong Kong customs seizes HK$13.8 million haul of fake medicine in biggest such bust in a decade

Clifford Lo

Hong Kong customs has made the largest seizure of counterfeit Chinese herbal and Western medicine in a decade with seven people arrested in raids across the city, according to an official.

The haul of 2.4 million tablets, including ones to treat impotence, and 470 litres of bogus liquefied medicine could have been sold for HK$13.8 million (US$1.8 million), Superintendent Guy Fong Wing-kai, of customs’ intellectual property investigation group, said on Friday.

The bogus medicine was supplied by a local syndicate, which sold the fakes mainly to cross-border parallel-import traders from mainland China via pharmacies, Fong said.

“The counterfeit medicine was sold for as low as 40 per cent of the retail price of genuine goods [to attract buyers],” he said.

The fake goods were sold at cheaper prices than the real versions. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

Fong said consumers were told the products were cheaper because they were parallel imports for countries where the standard of living was lower.

The haul included more than 30 fake medicines to treat heart problems, high blood pressure, impotence, joint pain and rheumatic arthritis, according to the Customs and Excise Department.

“Tests are under way to determine whether they are harmful to health,” Fong said.

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He believed the syndicate had been in operation for about three months and a small quantity of the counterfeit medicine had circulated in the market.

“We are still investigating the source of the products,” he said, adding that it was possible further arrests would be made.

Customs officers began their investigation with the deployment of undercover agents posing as consumers after noticing the syndicate became active about two months ago and sold the fakes to the pharmacies, which are popular with parallel traders from the mainland.

The counterfeit goods were sold via four pharmacies popular with mainland Chinese customers. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

After identifying the ringleader and the retail outlets, more than 80 officers swooped into action and raided four pharmacies in Sheung Shui, Yuen Long and Jordan and three units in an industrial building in Chai Wan on Tuesday.

More than 90 per cent of the seizure was discovered in the three flats, which were used as the storage and packaging centre.

Seven local men, aged between 26 and 56, were arrested in the operation, code-named Sniper. One of the suspects, 47, is the suspected ringleader and was picked up in Chai Wan. The other six are people in charge of the four pharmacies and one salesman.

All the suspects have been released on bail pending further investigations.

Under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance, selling or possessing fake products carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a HK$500,000 fine.

Fong advised consumers to buy pharmaceutical products from reputable shops. He said investigations were continuing and customs would enhance inspections against counterfeits.

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