Customs Operation STOP II cracks down on illicit trafficking of COVID-19 related medical devices

Benin Customs discovered a huge amount of medicine concealed in vehicle compartments.

The World Customs Organisation (WCO) has announced that its Operation STOP II had led to a crackdown on the illicit trade in medicines, vaccines and medical devices related to COVID-19.

The operation, which ran from 30 April to 30 September 2021, was the largest-ever Customs-led global operation by WCO involving 146 Member Customs administrations, with the support of a number of international organizations.

According to WCO, Operation STOP II follows the successful conclusion of Operation STOP I held from May to July 2020 and which saw participation by 99 Member Customs administration. The second iteration of Operation STOP generated twice as many seizures and shed light on new trafficking trends. A total of 2,360 cases of trafficking were reported by 83 members and some 3,434 cases of seizures were recorded. Of the 365.7 million units seized, 195.5 million were medicines related to COVID-19 (ivermectin, doxycycline, pregabalin, etc.), 156.7 million were medical devices (COVID-19 test kits, face masks, used gloves, sanitizer gel, oxygen cylinders, etc.) and around 13.5 million were doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

Dr. Kunio Mikuriya, Secretary-General of the WCO, made the announcement yesterday while speaking at the global webinar. He reported on the success of the Operation and reaffirmed the important role played by Customs in protecting society and facilitating legitimate trade in COVID-19 vaccines along the entire supply chain.

He thanked all the WCO members having participated in the Operation or having provided support in one way or another; the WCO Regional Intelligence Liaison Offices (RILOs) for their decisive role in coordinating with Members; and the WCO’s partners who greatly supported the Operation, namely Europol, INTERPOL, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) together with pharmaceutical companies and other private-sector actors, for their cooperation.

The Republic of the Congo reported a concealment type entailing cardboard boxes containing eggs used to conceal a large number of illicit medicines.

During the webinar, Mr. Ville Itälä, Director-General of OLAF, congratulated the WCO on the success of the Operation and underscored the importance of inter-agency collaboration to fight effectively against criminal organizations.

In his keynote address, Mr. W. Sakata, Director General of the Customs and Tariff Bureau of Japan’s Ministry of Finance, stressed the significance of this Operation in terms of securing the supply chain and highlighted Japan’s financial support for the Operation. In the same vein, Dr. Guénolé Mbongo Koumou, ViceChair for the WCO West and Central Africa (WCA), focused on the crucial role of Customs at borders and on the need to enhance cooperation between Customs administrations, with the support of the WCO Secretariat.

STOP II used its secure communication tool (IPR CENcomm Group) for data exchange on counterfeit medical supplies and fake medicines to enable timely sharing of information among Members. The WCO Secretariat also conducted in-depth data analysis to identify trends and risk indicators, enabling Customs administrations to strengthen their enforcement capabilities. One of the key trends discovered during the Operation was the sharp increase in seizures of small e-commerce consignments of anti-infective agents in the European region.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rolls on, the WCO will continue to monitor the situation closely and may launch further operations if required.

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