The head of an international pharmaceutical firm has been jailed for heading up what is believed to be the world’s biggest ever illegal anabolic steroid distribution network.
Jacob Sporon-Fiedler (38), the CEO of Indian-based company Alpha Pharma, was caught trying to smuggle unlicensed drugs into Belfast.
A National Crime Agency investigation identified around 42 tonnes of importations of illicit anabolic steroids into the UK.
Investigators were able to directly link Sporon-Fiedler to around 16 tonnes of those imports with an estimated value of around £12m.
Sporon-Fiedler worked with a network of UK-based fixers, including Gurjaipal Dhillon (65) and Nathan Selcon (44). Dhillon and Selcon were responsible for arranging dozens of unlicensed shipments of drugs from India into Europe, and then distributing them.
The NCA investigation began in 2014, following a seizure of around 600 kilos of the class C regulated drug by Border Force officers at Heathrow Airport. The load was destined for an address in Belfast.
Following that, NCA investigators began to piece together the movement of dozens of unlicensed shipments of drugs, many of which were organised by Dhillon.
The illegally imported drugs — made by Sporon-Fiedler’s pharmaceutical company in India — were shipped using Dhillon’s contacts. Once in the UK they would be distributed by Selcon to be sold to body builders and fitness fanatics on the black market.
Selcon also had links to two other men, Alexander MacGregor and Mohammed Afzal, who had set up a purpose built illicit steroid laboratory to manufacture their own branded drugs. Inside the labs raw powder would be converted into a liquid solution that could be injected and sold in vials.
Two such laboratories were identified. One operating on an industrial estate in Harmondsworth was raided and shut down by the NCA in March 2015.
Sporon-Fiedler had visited the facility shortly after being released on bail following his arrest at Heathrow airport. Evidence indicated it had been running for around four years, and officers found packaging and labelling for around £43m-worth of anabolic steroids.
NCA investigators were also able to prove links between the gang and another site in Slough which had produced steroids worth around £10m before it was raided by Thames Valley Police in Slough in 2009.
Selcon, Afzal and MacGregor were found guilty of conspiring to manufacture steroids on 4 April 2019, following a two month trial at the Old Bailey.
Dhillon was found guilty of conspiring to import steroids on 5 June 2019 following a separate trial. Sporon-Fiedler and Selcon had already admitted the charge.
On 14 November 2019 Selcon and Sporon-Fiedler were sentenced to six years and five years and four months respectively. On the same day, Dhillon was sentenced to five years and Afzal to two years in prison.
MacGregor will be sentenced at a later date.
NCA branch commander David Cunningham said: “This organised crime group was the most prolific of its kind ever uncovered, likely the biggest global players in the illicit anabolic steroid market.
“They had the ability to move tonnes of steroids into Europe where they would be sold on the black market, making tens of millions of pounds in profit.
“At the heart of the network lay Jacob Sporon-Fiedler, the CEO of the pharmaceutical company manufacturing the product itself. Text messages found on his phone indicated he wanted to ship around four tonnes a month into Europe, which demonstrates the scale of this enterprise.
“Sporon-Fiedler thought that by orchestrating this network from abroad he was untouchable, but following his arrest he found we had so much evidence against him he felt he had no choice but to plead guilty.
“We have managed to directly link him to 16 tonnes of illegal steroids imported into the UK, however it is likely this group were responsible for far more. Intelligence supplied by the NCA has triggered multiple seizures and criminal investigations by law enforcement partners across Europe.
“The important thing to remember is that all of these drugs were completely unregulated and unchecked, therefore they posed potentially major health risks to those who used them.”
The NCA investigation drew on assistance from 30 different agencies in 26 different countries. In the UK that included Border Force, UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). The Danish police and German customs service also supported.
Speaking following the sentencing UK Anti-Doping’s (UKAD) Director of Operations, Pat Myhill said: “We are very pleased with the outcome of this investigation. Our congratulations go to the team at the NCA for a successful resolution to this complicated case, which has identified significant distribution of image and performance enhancing drugs (IPEDs). Not only are these drugs a threat to clean sport, but they pose a very real danger to health.
“We were very happy to support the NCA in the investigation, especially in the early stages. The case demonstrates why excellent working relationships with law enforcement agencies are required to combat the varied threats to clean sport.”
MHRA’s Head of Enforcement, Mark Jackson said: “Medicines purchased outside the regulated supply chain cannot be guaranteed to meet standards of quality, safety and effectiveness and can present a real risk to public health. Some may contain dangerous ingredients which can have devastating consequences for patients who use them.
“The MHRA’s intelligence-led enforcement operations proudly assisted the NCA in this operation and will continue its work in collaborating with partners to help to stop medicines from illegally entering the UK.”