House raided in 'Viagra' inquiry

 

A house in Co Monaghan has been raided under a High Court order secured by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer against a man who allegedly masterminded a lucrative operation selling fake Viagra and other counterfeit drugs allegedly made in China over the internet.

Mr Justice Peter Kelly said there was an issue of public policy relating to a possible threat of impairment to public health “and even life” due to counterfeit drugs being offered for sale over the Internet to people “foolish enough” to buy them.

Pfizer Incorporated and related companies allege three British nationals - Andrew Mills, also known as Andrew Butcher, with an address in Co Monaghan, and his parents Brian and Sarah Mills - have for three years been offering for sale large quantities of fake Viagra and other drugs with a minimum estimated turnover of £465,000.

Pfizer, which made some $1.9 billion from worldwide sales of Viagra in 2008 with gross margins of 30 per cent on the tablets, claims the defendants actions have inflicted economic damage on it with estimated losses of €333,323.

It alleges a telephone system with 16 extensions was operated from Andrew Mills’ property at Smotrin, Bragan, to help facilitate the counterfeit drug sales. Mr Mills, who also has addresses in England, is alleged to have set up the operation which has now apparently ceased due to actions by Pfizer following a year-long investigation.

Pfizer began the investigation last year after learning of the operation. Its undercover investigators secretly recorded conversations with Andrew Mills who allegedly said credit unions in Ireland were an easy way of “losing” money as the money “sort of goes off record..they are a very good way of sort of cleaning a bit of money up”.

Mr Mills also allegedly said he opened an Ulster Bank business account here last March using false documents and obtained a €220,000 mortgage on his Smotrin property using false paperwork.

The purpose of living near the Border was because a car with Northern Ireland number plates was unlikely to be stopped by gardai which “makes me happier driving around with a few thousands boxes of whatever in the car..”, he allegedly said.

Mr Mills allegedly said he was earning £10,000 a year from the operation three years ago but last year earned “probably three hundred thousand”. He allegedly said up to 15,000 boxes of Viagra had to be bought at a time from China, indicated he had orders from the US and Canada and was “keen to expand into a wholesale side”.

Pfizer claims the defendants offered for sale other counterfeit drugs (some but not all made by Pfizer) including Kamagra, Tadalafil, Lovegra and Cialis, via websites, over the phone and by selling wholesale to trade customers. Up to April 2007, the 'viagrafast' website was offering “Genuine Pfizer ..THE REAL THING! ” 100mg Viagra in boxes of four for £20, it is claimed.

Mr Justice Kelly this week made an order allowing agents for Pfizer search and seize documents and other material from the premises at Smotrin.

Declan McGrath, for Pfizer, sought the order as an ancillary order to legal proceedings in England against Andrew Mills and his parents over alleged infringement of Pfizer’s trade marks. Mr McGrath sought a temporary ban on publicity on grounds the defendant, if forewarned, was likely to destroy records and dissipate assets.

Saying the case about Mr Mills “propensity to dishonesty” was “well made out”, the judge banned publicity until after the raid and when the matter returned to court.

The London High Court, which will hear the subsntial case against the three defendants, made orders in private on Monday for raids on premises in England on Wednesday last, in tandem with the raid here. It also froze the assets of the defendants below £300,000 and the Irish court made a similar order.

Today, Mr McGrath said the raid took place from 8am on Wednesday and Mr Mills was there while it was carried out. Various materials had been seized but there was concern a hard drive was missing from one computer, another hard drive was smashed, one mobile phone taken from Mr Mills was first used on April 29th last and there was no SIM card in another phone. It had been expected there would be three laptops on the premises but there was just “an oldish one”.

The judge said he was satisfied the search order was properly carried out and continued the order restraining Mr Mills reducing his assets, except for living expenses of £1,000 weekly and legal fees of £10,000, and directed the material seized could be sent to the Chinese authorities for a possible investigation into the source of the counterfeit drugs.

In an affidavit, a Pfizer senior executive outlined its investigation since June 2008 into the alleged illegal activities of the defendants. Pfizer investigators made a series of test purchases of Viagra and other drugs from websites and tests established all those drugs were counterfeit, he said.

The operation had been selling large quantities of counterfeit Viagra within the UK for at least three years and it was believed the counterfeit Viagra was imported from a person in China,  he added. The investigation also revealed all three defendants were involved in other fraudulent activities, he said.