A massive INTERPOL operation across the Middle East and North Africa netted nearly 20 million illicit pharmaceuticals items. The two-month swoop between February 1 and April 1, called Operation Qanoon, that coincided with the coronavirus pandemic, saw the trafficking of items related to COVID-19. These included:
• 61,000 respiratory masks and one artificial respirator in Morocco;
• 63,418 face masks and 360 sanitizing products in Jordan;
• 85,000 medical products (facemasks, gloves, thermometers, medical glasses, etc.) in Qatar.
The same findings aligned with the INTERPOL’s larger international operation, Operation Pangea that was run in March. The Coronavirus outbreak has inspired criminals into exploiting the high market demand for the medical and hygiene products to make a “quick buck”, according to investigators.
The Range of Items
The authorities of Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia conducted searches at ports, airports, border check posts, free trade zones, cargo and warehouse facilities, pharmacies and other points of sale. While the medicinal products included anaesthetics, analgesics, antimalarial medicines, benzodiazepines (tranquillizers) and corticosteroids, sexual stimulants, growth hormones; syringes, suture threads, surgical adhesive tapes and electronic glycaemia readers were some of the medical hardware. “INTERPOL is committed to tackling all forms of pharmaceutical crime. The volume of illicit medicines and counterfeit medical products seized is a reminder of the extent of this global problem and the very real risk to public safety,” said Paul Stanfield, INTERPOL Director for Organized and Emerging Crime.
Iraqi authorities reported two major cases. The first led to the seizure of roughly761,000 boxes of illicit medicines in seven shipping containers, worth around $2 million. In the second involved around 400 boxes and 9 million illicit pills. “The extent of the seizures makes the case for more such operations like Qanoon, where combined multi-agency multi-national efforts yielded tremendous success,” the Ministry of Interior, General Directorate for Drugs and Psychotropic Substances of Iraq said in a statement.
Kuwait too saw 16 seizures of 10 million medical pills, mainly Tramadol (an opioid painkiller) – a drug whose proliferation has been a running problem in the region. Authorities have for long connected them to terrorist groups’ fund raising activities. 2018’s first phase of Operation Qanoon, which netted 1.5 million items, laid the foundations for its second phase in 2020 which recording a whopping 20 million items.
This time around, the seizure of 5 million pills of methamphetamine and Captagon – not in the specific remit of Operation and therefore not included in the official records – bears a clear trend in proliferation of high stimulant street drugs in the region. Captagon, an amphetamine, is popular with the ISIL/Da’esh, both in terms of a revenue source and use in combat.
Qanoon, a multi-year, multi-nation effort aimed at illicit medicines and medical products in the Middle East and North Africa, also synergizes relevant agencies like the police, health authorities, customs, judiciary and the private sector.