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Rediff.com  » News » NRI sentenced for 5 1/2 years for producing fake Viagra

NRI sentenced for 5 1/2 years for producing fake Viagra

November 27, 2004 19:03 IST

A UK-based Non-Resident Indian has been sentenced to five and a half years in prison after he was found guilty of manufacturing fake drugs, including Viagra tablets, in a six-million-pound secret factory in Wembley, London.

Valentine alias Anant Babu Patel, 44, pleaded guilty at the Harrow Crown Court of conspiracy to supply Class C drugs and two charges involving contraventions of the Trade Marks Act and Medicines Act.

The court Friday sentenced him to five and a half years in Wormwood Scrubs prison and ordered confiscation of his cars and bank accounts.

Two other men were also sentenced for a string of drug offences in the case. Davin Pattni, 26, was sentenced to three years while Paul Donovan Austin, 39, received an 18-month suspended sentence for assembling medicinal products.

According to the police, Valentine was found to have changed his name from Anant Babu Patel in the late 1980s. He had also adopted the title of doctor, although he had no medical qualifications.

It is believed that Valentine, who had basic chemistry qualification, built up a knowledge of drugs while working as a sales representative for Pfizer, the drug company that manufactures Viagra, at its headquarters in Sandwich, Kent, in 1990. He went on to teach himself about manufacturing processes from the internet and books, sourcing machinery from contacts in Mumbai.

Valentine's business, valued at more than six million pounds from the contents of his room in the Wembley Commercial Centre alone, was found to be the hub of one of Europe's largest criminal networks of counterfeit medicines.

Stacked against the walls were containers full of fake drugs, including more than 250,000 Viagra tablets and 330,000 Diazepam pills, for export or sale over the internet.

Just 24 hours before his arrest, Valentine had made a cash offer for a 1.5 million pounds Edwardian mansion on a private estate in Hertfordshire. The same day he had arranged delivery of a 26,500 pounds Jeep Cherokee, to go with the two Mercedes and a soft-top Mazda he had bought in recent months for his wife and two of his three children.

Officers from Brent police, who had been alerted to the laboratory's existence by a tip-off from an unrelated investigation, soon became aware of the extent of Valentine's network.

Along with hi-tech packaging machinery worth tens of thousands of pounds, they found enough raw chemicals to make a further five and a half million tablets.

The factory also had a 15,000 pounds blister packaging machine and presses capable of producing up to 1,500 tablets a minute.

Various fake brands of Viagra were also discovered, along with a number of anabolic steroids. Although some of the Viagra pills were inert placebo, others were found to be chemical copies, made up from supplies of sildenafil citrate, Valentine had allegedly shipped in from India.

A further 40 kg of the unprocessed chemical compound, which is used for genuine Viagra, was also found in his unit.

Valentine also produced two fictitious brands, Viagra Plus and Lady Viagra which were found to have no active ingredient.

More worrying still were batches of so-called Diazepam tablets, often prescribed by doctors to relieve anxiety. Tests showed that Valentine's brand contained Nitrazepa, which can have the opposite effect.

A raid on a satellite office in Watford uncovered further documentation and sacks of products described as "ready for export or onward distribution", as well as pallets and a forklift truck. The drugs have been traced as far as

Scandinavia, Cyprus and Turkey and there are concerns that some fake batches of sedatives may be connected to a recent spate of drug deaths among addicts in Scotland, police said.

According to police, Valentine who grew up in India before coming to England, had already been convicted of 14 charges relating to medication fraud, including selling unlicensed anti-ulcer treatments in 2000.

On receiving a six-month suspended sentence under the Medicines Act, Valentine used the time to set up a far more sophisticated operation, moving into his 1,900 sq ft unit in Wembley and branching into Viagra.

Raj Kohli, the senior investigating officer at Brent police, said loopholes in the law had left detectives with few ways of securing proper punishment. Valentine could not even be charged with manufacturing the illegal substances, because under law he had not "produced" anything, but simply altered the way the chemicals were stored.

"The irony is that this was a serious drug infringement and public health risk, but it was only a copyright charge that really got him," Inspector Kohli said.

 

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