British Man imprisoned in ‘Operation Singapore’ investigation

03 May 2011

Tim Harris

The UK MHRA’s ‘Operation Singapore’ investigation into the infiltration of counterfeit medicine into the UK’s supply chain during five months in 2007 has concluded with a British man being sentenced to eight years imprisonment.  Mr Gillespie pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to defraud (pharmaceutical companies, pharmacies and members of the public) and of selling or supplying medicinal products without a marketing authorisation. 

This was the most serious known breach of the UK’s regulated supply of medicines with over £4.5 million of counterfeit medicines imported.  72,000 packs (more than 2 million doses) were imported into the UK.  The MHRA seized 40,000 packs but 32,000 reached pharmacies and patients, 25,000 of which remain unaccounted for following a recall.  These include counterfeits of Eli Lilly’s Zyprexa, Sanofi-Aventis’s Plavix and AstraZeneca’s Casodex. However, no deaths or adverse events have been definitively linked to the incident.

The counterfeits were shipped via Hong Kong, Singapore and Belgium, packaged as French medicines and brought into the Britain as parallel imports.  The case came to the MHRA’s attention when a licensed repackager noticed and reported to the MHRA that an embossed blister pack number was reversed.

Proposals to strengthen the medical supply chain in the EU against the growing threat from counterfeits have recently been adopted. See the article above entitled “New legislation on falsified medicines in the European Union”.