A former bankrupt businessman who funded a luxury lifestyle by selling millions of pounds worth of unlicensed Viagra-like drugs over the internet was jailed for two years yesterday.
Martin Hickman, 49 lives in a four-bedroomed farmhouse in Ashton-Under-Lyne, Greater Manchester, owns a property in Marbella, Spain and paid £2.5m for a riverside Chelsea apartment in West London.
He drove a top-of-the-line Range Rover with a number plate bearing his initials, MSH, and a Bentley with a number plate L13 RGE.
Investigators found that his website, MSH World Traders, had a turnover of £6.1m in just three years and made him a profit of £3.4m.
But some of the pills he was buying from India and selling to clients all over Europe were fake, made to look like the licensed Viagra products and others were not legal to sell in the UK.
He also sold sex toys, herbal aphrodisiacs and pumps designed to increase penis size.
Judge Deborah Taylor sitting at Southward Crown Court said: "Whilst no bulk quantities of these drugs were found at your premises, your account with the Post Office indicated that you were holding stock of drugs worth half a million."
She said that Hickman "chose to walk a tightrope" between legal and illegal trade in pursuit of the substantial profits on offer.
"Those sums were used to fund further purchases and your lifestyle. You lived a high life with several substantial properties both abroad and in the UK and expensive cars."
The court earlier heard that Hickman had believed the trade in unlicensed drugs similar to Viagra was legal and that he operated the business as a call centre on behalf of the company based in India.
The court also heard that Hickman did not knowingly supply fake Viagra and that he had bought the merchandise believing it to be the real thing.
But Judge Taylor said: "In my judgment there is little difference between those who sell large quantities of unlicensed drugs and those who sell counterfeit drugs."
Hickman, originally from London, was charged with dealing in fake and unlicensed medicine and money laundering £1.4m after an investigation by the Medicines and Health Care products Regulatory Authority which began in 2005 and became one of the biggest cases in the agency's history.
He pleaded guilty to six counts.
MHRA investigators came across Hickman's website during one of their routine patrols of the internet and raided his farmhouse home where the business was based, seizing company records and stockpiled drugs.
They found that Hickman kept money in bank accounts in Malta, the Cayman Islands and the Isle of Man and transferred funds through each account and his local bank in the north-west.
Despite the fact that he was under investigation in the following months Hickman continued to run the website even moving to office premises and taking on between six and 12 staff, said the MHRA.
The MHRA made a test purchase of pills from the site in 2006 and received counterfeit Viagra.
The following year the Manchester Evening News made a second test purchase and were sent Lovegra - a name for Kamagra, which is not licensed for sale in the UK.
Because the website was hosted in Germany the MHRA had to take out an injunction to shut it down.
But Hickman still continued to trade and in 2007 was jailed for three months for ignoring the injunction.
This was not the first time Hickman had fallen foul of the law when selling prescription drugs.
In 1998 he was jailed for 10 months for conspiracy to trade in steroids.
He was made bankrupt after the court case but by 2003 had set up his new business, MSH World Traders, said the MHRA.
Hickman was jailed for 12 months for two charges of supplying unlicensed Kamagra and Lovegra between 21 April, 2005 and 6 May 2007, one charge of supplying counterfeit Viagra on March 6, 2006, one charge of advertising prescription-only drugs and one charge of possessing unlicensed drugs. He was jailed for two years for the charge of money laundering and the sentences will run concurrently.