Exposé of company selling bogus Viagra forces British-owned website to close

IoS Investigation

A British-owned website which sold potentially dangerous fake Viagra has been closed down after its illegal activities were exposed by The Independent on Sunday.

Paypill.com was shut down on Friday afternoon by its owner, British businessman John Yonge, after he was tracked down to his home in south-east France.

Mr Yonge admitted he had sold the tablets but claimed he was astonished to learn that Pfizer, which makes Viagra, had found they were counterfeits. Mr Yonge alleged he had bought them in good faith from a supplier in Britain, who sourced them in North and Central America.

The Government's medical safety agency and trading standards officers have launched inquiries into Pay-pill.com, which claimed to be based in central London.

This case is the first of a British-run website selling counterfeit medicines. The regulators will be alarmed by the claims that fake prescription-only drugs were being sold by middlemen in the UK.

Mr Yonge's operation is also being investigated by the General Medical Council (GMC), after his website, advertised in the magazine Private Eye, claimed that British doctors issued online prescriptions for his Viagra.

The GMC has ruled that prescribing over the internet can harm patient health, and has already suspended one GP for three months for doing so. Mr Yonge said he had nearly recruited two British GPs but that they withdrew after the GMC case. Instead, he used an American doctor.

The IoS revealed last week that Mr Yonge was selling counterfeit Viagra, the world's most popular impotence treatment, as the genuine medicine. He claimed to sell the drug at "unbelievably low prices", and that every sale was "overseen" by qualified British and US doctors. But laboratory tests by Viagra's makers, Pfizer, found that four 100mg tablets and the box they came in were counterfeit. Although the pills contained the active ingredient sildenafil citrate, the formula was wrong.

Mr Yonge has already been in trouble with British regulators over his sale of hardcore porn videos, a business he claims to have sold. The Advertising Standards Authority reprimanded him in September for claiming to sell 15 videos for £1 each. Customers received only one tape with extracts of 15 films.

Mr Yonge, who lives in the French town of Peron close to the Franco-Swiss border, is thought to use the pseudonym David Elson. He would not deny this, but said he remains convinced that some of his Viagra supplies were genuine and that he would co-operate with the authorities. He also claimed that he had contacted Pfizer in the UK to check his supplies. Pfizer, however, could find no records of his inquiries.

"If I had bought them for a few pence each, I would have questioned it, but there wasn't that much profit in the tablets," he said. "I bought them in good faith, and I was told they were genuine."

John Theriault, Pfizer's head of global security and a former FBI executive, retorted: "He is not an authorised wholesaler of Viagra. He has no business to say he's buying legitimate product."

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