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South Africa

Swiss man sentenced over anti-HIV drugs scam

A 76-year-old former banker from Zurich has been sentenced for illegally selling anti-HIV drugs meant for poor patients in South Africa. The medicines were shipped and sold in Germany at considerable profit.

According to an article published in the Beobachter magazine on Tuesday, the fraud was discovered in 2009 when a patient in Germany reported that a box was incomplete. The manufacturer then investigated the issue, bringing the scam to light.

Between 2007 and 2009, the Swiss man behind the operation used intermediaries in South Africa to procure the lower priced drugs which were then sold at European prices to a buyer based in the German island of Sylt in the North Sea. The drugs sold include Combivir, Epivir, Norvir, Trizivir and Viramune.

Swissmedic - the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products - filed charges against the Swiss man under the grounds that he did not have a license to trade with South Africa.

“For Swissmedic this case is not only about the violation of the Law on Therapeutic Products. It is also important to state that this kind of offence is ethically and morally deeply reprehensible. These drugs were exclusively intended to be sold in Africa at a lower price than in Europe. If someone sells them on the European market they will not be there for African patients. This can potentially be lethal for these patients,” a spokesperson for Swissmedic told swissinfo.ch.

The former Zurich banker was handed a suspended sentence of CHF18,000 ($18,492) and a fine of CHF8,500 for violating the Swiss law on therapeutic products. In addition, profits from the trafficking operation - amounting to over CHF1 million - will be recovered by the Swiss government.

A United Nations programme to combat in AIDS in South Africa the late 1990s resulted in pharmaceutical firms selling anti-HIV drugs there at lower prices.



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