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Internet supplier of fake Viagra is ordered to pay back £14.4m

BMJ 2012; 344 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e3103 (Published 30 April 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3103
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

A British fraudster who sold fake sildenafil (Viagra) and slimming pills over the internet has been ordered to pay back a record £14.4m after one of the biggest investigations to be undertaken by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Southwark Crown Court in London ordered Martin Hickman, 52, to pay the sum within six months or face a further 10 years in prison.

Investigators found that he had acquired extensive assets, including a house in Ashton under Lyne, Staffordshire, several luxury flats, and Range Rovers, from criminal enterprises. He operated an illegal online pharmacy where he sold fake pills that looked like Viagra and unlicensed drugs acquired from India.

The financial investigation was carried out by specialist investigators from the North West Regional Asset Recovery Team, which said that the order was the largest it had ever secured. Investigators followed the money trail through more than 30 bank accounts in six jurisdictions, including Malta, the Netherlands, and the Cayman Islands.

The court concluded that Hickman, 52, had raked in more than £15.4m through his criminal activities. He supplied customers throughout Europe from his website, MSH World Traders, which was hosted from Germany.

He was originally jailed for two years in June 2009 after being convicted of six counts of selling unlicensed and counterfeit drugs and money laundering to the value of £1.2m.

During the financial investigation he breached a court order banning him from dealing with his assets, including selling a flat in London and diverting £600 000 to an associate. He was later jailed for a further 22 months for contempt of court and for trying to obtain a passport by deception by claiming that the previous one was lost when it had been retained by the MHRA. He has since been released from prison.

Danny Lee-Frost, the MHRA’s head of operations for enforcement, said, “The granting of this order demonstrates the MHRA’s commitment to ensuring that those responsible for the sale and supply of fake and unlicensed medicines will not benefit from their criminality. Fake medicines can be dangerous, and the MHRA are determined to protect patients.”

In 2007 Pfizer, makers of sildenafil, obtained a permanent injunction and an order for damages against Hickman over breaches of its trademark.

Hickman had a history of falling foul of the law when selling prescription drugs. In 1997 he was jailed for 10 months for conspiracy to supply steroids. He was made bankrupt after that but by 2003 had set up his new online business.

Notes

Cite this as: BMJ 2012;344:e3103