The three men have been sentenced to a total of 10 years, with the harshest sentence being handed down to the defendant who claimed to be a prominent Pfizer employee with vast experience of the pharmaceutical industry. Gary Haywood, of Waterfall Way in Barwell, Leicester, was sentenced to six years as a "pivotal conspirator" in the drugs ring, who made use of off-shore bank accounts, forged documents and contacts in Asia who supplied 'made to order' fakes to be smuggled onto the UK market. A second man was sentenced to two and half years, though is still at large after absconding from trial on 30 August after being found guilty of five offences. A warrant has been issued for his arrest. The third man, the youngest conspirator in the group at 25 years old, was handed an 18 month sentence, with the presiding Judge declaring that the sentenced man "knew full well the potential consequences of [his] behaviour and [was] prepared to reap the financial benefits." Three weeks ago another man was sentenced to four and a half years' imprisonment at Kingston Crown Court, also part of the same fake drugs racket. The massive counterfeit drugs operation was crushed last month as the Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced that a number of men had been convicted following Operation Stormgrand, an investigation stretching back several years and culminating in the seizure of over £1.5m (€2.2m) of counterfeit drugs. The men under investigation were part of the UK distribution arm of a global counterfeiting ring, with operations stretching from China, India and Pakistan to the Caribbean, the US and the UK. The counterfeiters focused on importing fake versions of Merck's hair loss product Propecia (finasteride), as well as the crème de la crème of the counterfeiter's catalogue, Pfizer's Viagra (sildenafil citrate) and Eli Lilly's Cialis (tadalafil). This particular group, representing the biggest fake drugs operation ever uncovered in the UK, succeeded in importing millions of pounds' worth of bogus drugs from a network of manufacturing setups around the world, filtered for sale through licensed wholesalers to pharmacies in the UK, and through internet sites based in the UK and abroad. The MHRA has been keen to publicise the convictions as evidence of the agency's intolerance of the illegal manufacture, sale and distribution of fake medicines, and to warn consumers of the danger of self-prescribing through internet purchases. "The conviction of these individuals sends a clear message to those engaged in such criminal activity," said Mick Deats, head of enforcement at the MHRA. "We will not hesitate to use the full force of the law against them." Judge Price, who handed down the three sentences last week condemned the men's acts as cases of "greed motivated by immense profits," illustrating the difficulty in thwarting criminals determined to get their own slice of big pharma profits. "These sentences are designed to deter others from becoming involved in the lucrative business. The scale of enterprise was truly global and conducted with a total cynical disregard for consumers," said Judge Price. Just four months ago the European Commission published alarming figures revealing a five-fold increase in fake pharmaceuticals across Europe from 2005 to 2006. The spike in fake drug products is a worrying sign that the increasingly sophisticated tools of the faker's trade and the fat profits to be had by those conniving enough to bring fake drugs to the market are going to be difficult enemies in the battle against counterfeit drugs.