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Research Project on Internet Commerce and Pharmaceutical Crime (ALPhA)


Project type:

Research project


Project beginning: May 2014

Project ending: June 2016



Working languages:


Legal systems:

All 28 EU Member States



In 2003, the European Court of Justice declared that a comprehensive ban on the mail-order sales of freely available pharmaceuticals was contrary to European Law (Case C-322/01, 11 December 2003). In reacting to this decision, the German parliament went beyond the court's ruling, and the Statutory Health Insurance Modernization Act 2004 ('GKV-Modernisierungsgesetz vom 01.01.2004') opened the door to mail-order and online sales of prescription drugs as well.

Making pharmaceuticals available by post saved consumers time and money, but it also opened the door to considerable potential for abuse. Online sales especially have come to be seen as a primary channel for the illegal distribution of pharmaceuticals - according to the World Health Organization, half of all online pharmacies not disclosing their registered office are engaged in selling fradulent pharmaceuticals.

The illegal trade in pharmaceuticals over the internet presents a danger for public health and leads to considerable losses for the pharmaceutical industry. But prosecuting these offenders presents law enforcement authorities with unique challenges: the offences almost always have cross-border aspects, many involve organized crime, and the regulatory framework for pharmaceuticals is relatively heterogenous even within the European Union. These investigations and prosecutions face significant technical hurdles as well.

The project

This joint project is part of the research programme of the Federal Ministry for Education and Research on public safety, and is funded by the "Public Safety and White-Collar Crime" branch of the programme.

The project's aim is broad: to empirically investigate the structures around offenders and offences in this area of crime, to collect the relevant national regulatory instruments, and to suggest private and public law regulatory alternatives. Its main activity will be a comparative-law investigation of the criminal codes of the now 28 EU Member States, taking in all aspects of substantive criminal law, criminal procedure, and cross-border legal cooperation. It will also develop technical tools for combatting pharmaceutical crime on the internet.

The project will use a combination of empirical data collection, data analysis, and comparison in an interdisciplinary team of lawyers, criminologists, and experts from relevant technical fields, all with the participation of representatives from practice-law enforcement, industry, and professional associations.


The project builds on the ministry's stated aim of using the results of the research programme to preserve and increase public safety in the face of increasing white-collar crime without comprimising the principles of the rule of law.

The goal of the project is to develop concrete recommendations for action for the improved prosecution of internet-based pharmaceutical crime and to provide a broad body of empirical evidence for effective policymaking.

A project description from the Federal Ministry for Education and Research you can find here.