Home South African SA fertile ground for Covid-19 vaccine black market – experts

SA fertile ground for Covid-19 vaccine black market – experts

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Interpol has warned that from the onset of the pandemic, criminals had preyed on people’s fears to make fast cash and fake vaccines are the latest scam.

File picture: Reuters/Willy Kurniawan

EXPERTS believe an international organised criminal network is readying the country to become a base of operation for the Covid-19 vaccine black market.

An ongoing collaboration between Interpol, South African and Chinese police to bring down a fake vaccine criminal network culminated in the arrest of three Chinese nationals and a Zambian national in Gauteng.

About 400 ampoules, equivalent to around 2,400 doses, containing the fake vaccine were confiscated.

National police spokesperson Colonel Brenda Muridili said the four suspects were out on bail but due back in court on May 28.

Interpol said Chinese police successfully identified a network selling counterfeit Covid-19 vaccines, raided the manufacturing premises, resulting in the arrest of about 80 suspects, and seized more than 3,000 fake vaccines.

Interpol secretary general Jürgen Stock said from the onset of the pandemic, criminals had preyed on people’s fears to make fast cash and fake vaccines were the latest scam.

“Anyone obtaining vaccines from anywhere other than their national provider, will be buying a fake product. The networks behind these crimes have global ambitions. No country or region can fight this type of crime alone.”

Researcher and transnational organised crime expert, Richard Chelin, from Enact and the Institute for Security Studies, said the country was a fertile ground for the black market vaccine.

“Fake vaccines are currently saline water; real but black market vaccines are vaccines brought through legal channels but stolen or corruptly siphoned. The question of why someone would want a black market vaccine is simple, they are scared and desperate to be vaccinated,” he said.

Craig Moffat, head of governance, delivery and impact programme from Good Governance Africa, said Covid-19 was the game-changer.

Both said the best counter measure would be increasing vaccination roll-outs and, while the market was still in its infancy, China was more advanced as they were able to manufacture and distribute with intentions to turn the country into a base of operation.

Security expert Dmitry Galov, from Russia-based cybersecurity firm Kaspersky, said almost anything was available in the dark web marketplaces.

Galov said they searched 15 marketplaces, where experts found advertisements for many vaccines with the three major vaccines being Pfizer/ Biontech, Oxford/AstraZeneca and Moderna.

“On average these underground sellers have made between 100 to 500 transactions, indicating that they’ve been completing sales. Prices per dose range from about R3,700 to R18,000, averaging about R7,500.”

Oded Vanunu, head of products vulnerabilities research at American-israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point, said the dark net was booming with a 300% spike in advertisements selling alleged Covid-19 vaccines.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca and the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine cost about R7,500 with the Johnson & Johnson and Russian Sputnik vaccine costing about R9,000. It cost about R3,000 for a fake government vaccination certificate.

Users simply send their details and money, and the seller e-mails back fake documents. In less than 24 hours, travellers could buy a negative Covid-19 test under deals of “buy 2 get the 3rd for free”.

Travellers could auto-generate a negative Covid-19 test in less than 30 minutes for as low as R375.