Swiss banker resold cheap HIV drugs meant for Africa

The Local
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Swiss banker resold cheap HIV drugs meant for Africa
A South African woman is tested for HIV by an health worker working with Doctors withour borders (MSF) at a mobile clinic. File photo: AFP

A former Swiss banker illegal earned over €1 million by selling HIV medication meant for poor people in southern Africa to customers in Europe, authorities say.


The businessman, now aged 70, made the profit by abusing a system designed to ensure that HIV patients in developing countries could access retroviral therapy at affordable prices.

Under the United Nations’ so-called Accelerating access initiative, pharmaceutical companies were obliged to make retroviral therapy available to poorer countries at a tiny fraction of the price seen in Europe and the USA.

But a Zurich-based businessman – named as M.K by Swiss magazine Beobachter – saw a way to make money from the scheme.

Working with an accomplice in South Africa who described himself as a wholesale pharmaceuticals dealer, M.K is thought to have imported cheap medication into Europe before selling it on at first world prices.

To ensure the medication meant the needs of the German market it was removed from the English-language packaging supplied for the South African market and placed it in original German language GlaxoSmithKline packaging destined for Namibia.

The drugs were then shipped to Brussels.

Payments were made via three firms in Panama, all of which could be traced back to M.K.

The man is thought to have made profits of €900,000 (995,000 Swiss francs) and £140,000.

However, the scheme came to an end when a customer in Germany complained that the HIV medication he had purchased had been tampered with and that some of the pills were missing. Similar cases were then revealed.

A follow-up investigation by Swiss pharmaceuticals agency Swissmedic has seen M.K stripped of his earnings.

Despite claims from the businessman that he was a “victim” in the affair and that he wasn’t aware such practices were illegal, he will be forced to pay a fine of at least 8,500 francs and his court costs.

His accomplice was fined 5,200 Swiss francs by the South African authorities and has since been fired by his firm, Beobachter reported.


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