Turkish man pleads guilty to importing illegal cancer drugs

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Sabahaddin Akman, owner of the Istanbul, Turkey, firm Ozay Pharmaceuticals, has pleaded guilty to charges of smuggling misbranded and adulterated cancer treatment drugs into the United States.

Akman pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, in St. Louis, Missouri, where he initially shipped his illegal drugs. The drugs did not meet the FDA’s standards and had not been approved for distribution in the United States.

The FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations coordinated a complex, multi-layered international investigation that led to Akman’s arrest in Puerto Rico in January 2014. The investigation identified Akman and his company as a source of Altuzan, the Turkish version of the cancer treatment drug Avastin.

“These criminals exploited our most vulnerable patients when they arranged for their illicit drugs to be brought into the United States and used to treat cancer patients. We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who prey on our ill, susceptible patients,” said Philip J. Walsky, acting director of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. “We commend our colleagues – international, national, state, and local – whose contributions helped bring this case to a successful conclusion.” 

Akman, along with his employee, Ozkan Semizoglu, obtained the illicit drugs and then used shipping labels to conceal the illegal nature of the shipments, including customs declarations falsely describing the contents as gifts. They also broke large drug shipments into several smaller packages to reduce the likelihood of seizures by U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities.

Along with the FDA and Europol, the international operation involved several German government offices: the Bonn prosecutor; the Federal Criminal Police, the Dusseldorf police, and the German State Criminal Police.  Special agents of the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service assigned to the U.S. Embassy’s Regional Security Office in Ankara, Turkey, and the U.S. Consulate General’s Overseas Criminal Investigations Branch in Istanbul, Turkey also played key roles in the successful resolution of this case.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation's food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

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