Zug, 18.01.2022

Salt water sold instead of effective medicines

A man from Zug repeatedly violated the Swiss Therapeutic Products Act with his company. The hearing took place last November, and the final verdict is now available.

The case made headlines even before the trial. It involved the cancer drug Avastin, which was counterfeited and, via several intermediaries, was sold from Egypt to the USA by a Zug-based pharmaceutical wholesaler. The company, which has been in liquidation since 2019, also traded an AIDS drug between 2011 and 2013, which the manufacturer was supposed to sell in Africa at a reduced price for charitable reasons. At the hearing last November, it was determined that the cancer drug was ineffective. Instead of having an active ingredient, it merely contained a saline solution. A penalty order against the Zug dealer had been issued by Swissmedic, the Swiss Agency for Therapeutic Products. The Zug resident then demanded a judicial assessment of both facts – which resulted in the proceedings of November 2021.

The man has now received this judicial assessment, including punishment and justification. The single judge found him guilty of multiple intentional and negligent violations of the Therapeutic Products Act (Heilmittelgesetz), and the pharmaceutical wholesaler will be fined CHF 12,250. In addition, he must pay the state nine tenths of the administrative costs from the two procedures, amounting to CHF 13,950.

In addition, the court will overturn the seizure of the sum totalling just under CHF 143,000, which Swissmedic must now transfer to the bankruptcy estate of the company, which is being administered by the Zug Bankruptcy Office (Konkursamt). The company itself was declared bankrupt in 2019.

No import authorisation
In the penalty order, Swissmedic accused the accused of having imported medicinal products into Switzerland without a licence. In addition, he is said to have violated the duty of care in the handling of the drugs – including the redistribution of the Avastin drug (without an active ingredient) without waiting for the results of the laboratory test. As a result, the health of patients in the USA was endangered. Swissmedic also imposed a fine of 100 daily rates of CHF 500, a connecting fine of CHF 10,000 and a violation fine of CHF 4,000, these fines being conditional over a period of two years.

Because of the trade in AIDS medicines that were actually intended for charitable purposes, Swissmedic found the dealer guilty of violating the Therapeutic Products Act. It should have been clear to the accused that the trade in these drugs was unlawful. He was fined CHF 12,000.

Swissmedic may directly issue fines, as well as measures, in penalty notices and penalty orders. If custodial sentences are being considered, the necessary assessment is the responsibility of a cantonal court, and Swissmedic will provide the prosecution if legal proceedings are initiated.