A SMUGGLING ring led by the CEO of an India-based pharmaceutical company has been busted by British security forces, following an investigation across 26 countries over six years, officials said on Thursday (14).
The UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) said its investigation had identified around 42 tons of illegal anabolic steroids imported into the UK.
The NCA directly linked Jacob Sporon-Fiedler, the 38-year-old CEO of India-based Alpha Pharma, to around 16 tons of the imports, with an estimated value of around £12 million.
Sporon-Fiedler worked with a network of UK-based fixers, including 65-year-old Gurjaipal Dhillon and 44-year-old Nathan Selcon. Together they were responsible for arranging dozens of unlicensed shipments of drugs from India into Europe, and then distributing them.
The illegally imported drugs – made by Alpha Pharma in India – were shipped using Dhillon’s contacts. Once in the UK they would be distributed by Selcon to be sold to bodybuilders and fitness fanatics on the black market.
“This organised crime group was the most prolific of its kind ever uncovered, likely the biggest global players in the illicit anabolic steroid market,” said NCA branch commander David Cunningham.
“They had the ability to move tonnes of steroids into Europe where they would be sold on the black market, making tens of millions of pounds in profit. At the heart of the network lay Jacob Sporon-Fiedler, the CEO of the pharmaceutical company manufacturing the product itself. Text messages found on his phone indicated he wanted to ship around four tons a month into Europe, which demonstrates the scale of this enterprise,” he said.
Cunningham said Sporon-Fiedler, as the ringleader, thought that by orchestrating the network from India he was “untouchable”, but following his arrest he had no choice but to plead guilty.
“The important thing to remember is that all of these drugs were completely unregulated and unchecked, therefore, they posed potentially major health risks to those who used them,” Cunningham added.
The NCA investigation began in 2014, following a seizure of around 600 kg of the Class C regulated drug by UK’s Border Force officers at Heathrow Airport.
The load was destined for an address in Northern Ireland capital Belfast. Following the probe, NCA investigators began to piece together the movement of dozens of unlicensed shipments of drugs, many of which were organised by Dhillon.
Selcon also had links to two other men, Alexander MacGregor and Mohammed Afzal, who had set up a purpose-built illicit steroid laboratory to manufacture their own branded drugs.
Inside the labs raw powder would be converted into a liquid solution that could be injected and sold in vials.
Selcon, Afzal and MacGregor were found guilty of conspiring to manufacture steroids in April this year, following a two-month trial at the Old Bailey in London.
Dhillon was found guilty of conspiring to import steroids in June following a separate trial and sentenced to five years in prison on Thursday.
Sporon-Fiedler and Selcon, who had previously admitted the charge and pleaded guilty, were also sentenced on Thursday to six and five years and four months, respectively. Afzal has been jailed for two years and MacGregor will be sentenced at a later date.
The NCA said its investigation drew on assistance from 30 different agencies in 26 different countries. In the UK that included Border Force, UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The Danish police and German customs service also supported the extensive operation.
UK Anti-Doping’s (UKAD) director of operations Pat Myhill said: “Not only are these drugs a threat to clean sport, but they pose a very real danger to health.
“We were very happy to support the NCA in the investigation, especially in the early stages. The case demonstrates why excellent working relationships with law enforcement agencies are required to combat the varied threats to clean sport.”
MHRA’s head of enforcement, Mark Jackson, added: “Medicines purchased outside the regulated supply chain cannot be guaranteed to meet standards of quality, safety and effectiveness and can present a real risk to public health. Some may contain dangerous ingredients which can have devastating consequences for patients who use them.
“The MHRA’s intelligence-led enforcement operations proudly assisted the NCA in this operation and will continue its work in collaborating with partners to help to stop medicines from illegally entering the UK.”