Wednesday, 13 November

Off-Shore Companies with Turkish Connections Export Pharmaceuticals to Armenia

When Tigran went to a Yerevan drugstore looking for something to remedy his physical sluggishness, the clerk suggested “Polijen”, an over the counter vitamin complex supplement.

“The insert read that the vitamin had no known serious side effects, so I decided to take them staring the next day. Arriving home, I read the box and the instructions in greater detail. What caught my eye and raised my suspicion was that the box stated that the vitamins were manufactured in America, whereas the insert said Great Britain,” Tigran recounts.

So Tigran used Google to check out the truth and quickly discovered that Polijen causes nausea, rashes and other discomfiting symptoms in many who ingest the vitamin. He later concluded that World Medicine, the name that appears on the box, wasn’t the world renowned company it professed to be.

In fact, the vitamin is manufactured by EIPICO (Egyptian International Pharmaceutical Industries), based in Egypt, for World Medicine. The latter does not produce any medicine itself. It merely orders certain pharmaceuticals and then ships the product.

Polijen has been imported from Egypt to Armenia since October 2005, via World Medicine. In June, 2006, it has been imported from Georgia by World Medicine and Global Pharm. In 2007, World Medicine opened an office in Armenia, but only informed the RA Ministry of Health of its operations in 2011. The company office closed soon afterwards. Today, a number of companies (Tonus Les, Eskulap, Alfa Pharm, Natali Pharm) import the vitamin Polijen to Armenia.

In response to our written inquiry as to whether Polijen could have caused nausea, the RA Ministry of Health responded that the insert does not note nausea as a possible side effect. The ministry said it had received notification about possible rash outbreaks in 2009.

Tonus Les Director Levon Hakobyan says that Polijen has proven itself to be an “effective and good drug” and says that nausea might result from not following the physician’s instructions or from an overdose. Mr. Hakobyan appears unaware of the fact that the vitamin is sold over the counter, without a prescription.

On its website, World Medicine claims to be a British pharmaceutical company that originated in the United States. There is no address given for the company. After doing a little digging on the site, we came across the following map which shows that the company office is in Istanbul, Turkey.

On April 13, we wrote to the email address on the site, asking about the company’s shareholders and the countries where the vitamin is exported to. We sent a similar inquiry to EIPICO. To date, we haven’t received a response from either company.

If you go to the World Medicine website today you won’t see the above map. It’s been removed.

The section “About Us” is an empty blank. Luckily, through our Turkish and international colleagues, we’ve been able to uncover some interesting information.

As we’ve noted, World Medicine is a British offshore company. The directors are Raushan Tahiyeu and Zafer Karaman; the former is a Belarus citizen residing in Turkey and the latter is Turkish.   

Tahiyeu and a man called Sohrab Mammadov were the managers of the Istanbul office. All have    headed a number of drug companies in the past. They also are the directors and shareholders in a sister company called Rotapharm. The Istanbul Chamber of Commerce (ICC) verifies this fact. According to ICC data, World Medicine registered in 2003 and Rotapharm, in 2007.

A special investigative committee of the Kyrgyzstan Parliament is now looking into charges that Rotapharm has been supplying the country with substandard pharmaceuticals. Kyrgyz physicians claim that the drugs are causing numerous side effects in their patients.

The Guardian newspaper covered a story where dialysis patients were given the drug Repretin and that unpleasant side-effects ensued. (Repretin is a cheap version of the generic drug epoetin, known as EPO; a hormone that boosts the production of red blood cells and is used to help kidney dialysis patients)

Evidence obtained by the Guardian shows that the company, Rotapharm Ltd, is not regulated by any British medical authority, but benefits from loopholes in UK law and the existence of the secretive UK offshore industry.

The Guardian writes:

It advertises itself on its website as "a British pharmaceutical company created with the aim to improve people's health … established in 2005 as a British generic pharmaceutical company by pharmaceutical professionals". It is said to have its headquarters in Saffron Walden, Essex. 

Rotapharm is, in fact, owned by a Belarussian businessman living in Turkey, has no British employees, was set up offshore in the British Virgin Islands and buys its supply of the dialysis drug Repretin from a manufacturer in Egypt. The company is allowed to advertise itself as British because it maintains a British-registered company, with a small office on UK territory. British regulators are powerless to intervene. 

Both Rotapharm Ltd and its sister company, World Medicine, owned by Tahiyeu, were set up anonymously in 2005 in the British Virgin Islands. As such, they publish no accounts and pay no taxes. 

Two parallel firms with identical names were legally registered in the UK at Companies House, originally with concealed ownership and sham nominee directors with addresses in the Caribbean micro-state of St Kitts and Nevis. Later, they were re-registered with Tahiyeu named as owner 

When a Guardian reporter visited the Rotapharm’s “office” in Essex, the only person to be found was Zafer Karaman, the listed company’s secretary, who lives locally. He refused to answer any questions about Rotapharm.

The MHRA (Regulating Medicines and Medical Devices), an executive agency of the British Department of Health responsible for ensuring that all medicines and medical devices in the UK are safe, found that in this case they are powerless to intervene. If the medicines are certified in any third nation, and found to be safe and effective, the British agency doesn’t have the authorization to take measures against the company.

When pharmaceuticals are imported into Armenia, they must first be approved by the Ministry of Health’s Drugs and Medical Technologies Testing Center.

“The entity responsible for the pharmaceutical is the manufacturer. We aren’t responsible, neither is World Medicine or the company we import from,” says Tonus Les Director Hakobyan.

Hakobyan says the EIPICO, the manufacturer of Polijen, is internationally known and has all the necessary certificates to manufacture pharmaceuticals, even the GMP (good manufacturing practice).

He adds that the regulatory body in Armenia registered the product and that, regardless of who placed the order for the drug, the primary responsible organization is the manufacturer, followed by the local regulatory agency that approved its importation and use.

Davit Nersisyan, a physician at On Clinics, says that he never prescribes World Medicine products to his patients. He says that   his internet searches on the company left him unconvinced regarding World Medicine’s “standing”. He adds that none of his colleagues have anything good to say about the company either.

Armenia imports 79 pharmaceutical products manufactured for World Medicine. In the case of Rotapharm products, Armenia stopped importing them in 2012.

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