Dope pushers snared in crackdown

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 2008, 12:00am

Scores of mainland producers nabbed but online sellers prove elusive

The mainland's dragnet to catch and punish drug producers and peddlers has already yielded a bumper haul, but online distributors continue to escape the government's aggressive drive to ensure the cleanest Games on record, mainland officials said yesterday.

The zero-tolerance approach has seen scores of open and covert investigations carried out over the last year, targeting makers and wholesalers of illegal substances such as anabolic steroids, erythropoietin (EPO) and human growth hormone (HGH), and 151 enterprises had been exposed, said the deputy commissioner of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA), Wu Zhen.

Most have had their licenses revoked and been forced to close, while a senior staffer at one distributing company was jailed for seven years.

'We are determined to use the opportunity of the Olympic Games to reduce doping in China,' said Wu.

The mainland is eager to change the nation's reputation as a country that mass-produces drug cheats ahead of the August event.

The big sweep is also sending a message to mainland athletes and coaches who may be tempted to use banned substances to think again about risking a huge embarrassment to the 2008 hosts.

Wu added: 'The Chinese government has become more and more aggressive against anti-doping, especially since the second half of last year.'

One company in Jiangxi province traded approximately 1 million yuan (HK$1.13 million) worth of banned performance enhancers on the internet without a licence.

It was fined 800,000 yuan and the 'person responsible' imprisoned for seven years for illegal trading.

While the policy will likely draw praise from the World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada), many online dope marketeers are still eluding the drug busters, admitted Wu.

'Online sales is one of our major tasks,' he said.

'Our investigation found 321 offending sites, but websites are very flexible. We often find the addresses and names published on the site are false and some were based overseas,' he said.

There are 4,000 registered pharmaceutical companies and more than 300,000 drug stores on the mainland, according SFDA statistics.

Wu took exception to claims that China was a 'large-scale' exporter of illegal substances - a label that has stuck after a US Justice Department steroids crackdown last year identified the mainland as the source of much of the international trade in the raw materials used to make the substances.

'We don't actually export a lot of manufactured drugs, certainly not to Europe or the Americas,' said Wu.

'Exporting the raw materials is not illegal. If raw materials we export are subsequently made into illegal substances, it's not our responsibility.'

He refused to discuss an investigation into a Shanghai pharmaceutical company that was allegedly providing prohibited drugs to the Greek weightlifting team - suspected rogue trading which saw 11 squad members test positive for banned substances in April.

'The book hasn't been closed [on the Greek investigation],' he said.

The numerous government departments plugged into the country's vast sporting mechanism remain highly sensitive to the drug-cheat threat.

The country was embroiled in a series of doping scandals in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a reputation that easily raises suspicions among international sports commentators.