10 arrested after ‘German’ diet pills found to be made in China and laced with banned substance

Police allege that the defendants were part of a multimillion-yuan operation that made, sold and distributed weight-loss pills laced with the banned additive sibutramine

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 18 March, 2018, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 March, 2018, 5:40pm

Ten people will face trial in eastern China for allegedly making and selling weight-loss drugs containing a banned substance, touting them as popular diet pills from Germany.

Police claimed the profit margins from the multimillion-yuan diet pill operation were greater than those of some kinds of drug trafficking, Chinese media reports said.

The pills were made in a rural workshop in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, and laced with sibutramine, an appetite suppressant banned in China since 2010 after it was found to induce strokes and heart attacks.

Police began investigating the case in June 2016 when a man reported that three bottles of a weight loss pill he bought online did not have a production or expiration date and looked like counterfeits, the Yangtze Evening News reported on Sunday.

Officers traced the vendor to a person in Suzhou who bought the pills from a wholesaler and retailed them online, mostly through social media, the report said.

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The supplier, a 28-year-old former state-owned enterprise employee in Shijiazhuang, Hebei province, said he got into the diet pill business in 2016, attracted by the huge profits, according to the report.

He hired a 47-year-old man in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, to make the pills using materials bought online, including sibutramine, starch, glucose and Malabar tamarind, an Indonesian fruit popular as a weight-loss supplement.

According to a Legal Daily report last year, the supplier bought anti-counterfeit logos, instructions and packaging online for the manufacturer.

The supplier also asked the manufacturer to test the pills before they were sent out.

But buyers soon demanded refunds when the pills did not have the desired effect, prompting the manufacturer to double the amount of sibutramine in the tablets to 50 micrograms per pill, five times the legal maximum when the substance was banned, the Yangtze Evening News report said.

The manufacturer was paid up to 1 yuan for every bottle of pills, bringing in about 70,000 yuan in profit in six months, the report said. The profits for the supplier were up to 50 times his costs.

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The business was also lucrative for the online vendor, who encouraged five members of her family to join the operation.

When police raided the vendor’s home, they reportedly found more than 10,000 receipts from courier companies who delivered the pills to buyers.

Jiangsu police detained more than 10 people in raids in Shijiazhuang and Nangong in Hebei province, Suzhou, Xuzhou, Nantong in Jiangsu province and Tianmen in Hubei province.

But not before many records of the transactions were destroyed, the report said.

“The vendor deleted most of her online chat history and bank transfer records,” Legal Daily quoted prosecutor Li Liling as saying.

“The transaction amount we uncovered was only a part of the sales, which were much much more.”