Investigators are probing several pharmaceutical wholesalers, NDR reported on Thursday, who are suspected of repackaging HIV drugs in Africa, bringing them back to Germany and reselling them at local market rates.
According to investigators, the HIV drugs were often in the form of loose pills in cartons and sacks that were destined for HIV patients in South Africa, which has one of the world's highest rates of HIV infection. After the medicines were repackaged, they were brought to Germany illegally via Belgium and Switzerland.
"Because South Africa, Switzerland and Belgium as well as other countries are involved, this case is surely going to be one of our biggest," Rüdiger Meienburg, the head prosecutor in Flensburg, told NDR.
According to NDR, one wholesaler allegedly made around €6 million in profits from the trade. In addition to Flensburg officials, prosecutors in Trier and Lübeck have launched investigations and Germany's federal police have also become involved.
This kind of fraud, according to the Flensburg office, can carry jail terms of three months to ten years.
"These medicines were from aid organizations for treatment of South Africans and the wholesalers brought them to Germany although they were not approved here," the Lower Saxony spokesman for the AOK health insurance company, Oliver Giebel, told NDR. He said health insurers likely lost tens of millions of euros due to the fraud.
Investigators do not think the effectiveness of the medicines was lowered due to their transport and repackaging, although they are looking into whether some had passed their expiration dates.
"In this case, wholesalers were not only enriching themselves through criminal means, but they were hurting the people who were supposed to receive these drugs," said pharmaceutical expert Gerd Glaeske of the University of Bremen.
"That's especially reprehensible," he added.