Chinese authorities have arrested the leader of a multi-million-dollar scam that sold saline solution and mineral water as Covid-19 vaccines.
The man, identified only as Kong, had researched and replicated the packaging designs of genuine vaccines before making nearly 60,000 of his own fakes.
A batch of 600 of these useless vaccines was sent to Hong Kong last November, before they were shipped out of China. The sales were apparently made via “internal channels” of genuine manufacturers.
At least one other batch of his mock vaccines was smuggled out of China, but authorities claim they do not know which country it ended up in, the BBC says.
Kong is just the latest of 70 people who have been arrested for similar crimes after Beijing vowed to crack down on fraudulent vaccines.
Even though most of the cases surfaced late last year, new details were released this week.
According to a court ruling, Kong and his team made a profit of 18 million yuan (US$2.78 million) by hawking syringes of the fraudulent vaccine since August last year.
In other cases, counterfeit vaccines were sold at inflated prices in hospitals. Other criminals also conducted inoculation programmes of their own and had “village doctors” vaccinate people with fake jabs in their homes and cars.
China’s highest prosecuting body, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, or Prosecutor General’s Office has urged regional agencies to cooperate with the police to curb such counterfeiting activities.
Chinese officials had hoped to administer 100 million genuine Covid-19 vaccine doses before the Lunar New Year last week but have only vaccinated 40 million people so far.
However, the country has largely managed to bring the pandemic under control with strict lockdown, testing and tracing measures.