Honduran Company Claims Ignorance of Fake Vaccine Imports

n this photo released by Mexico’s tax agency, SAT, on March 17, 2021, officials show vials of seized, alleged Sputnik V vaccines for COVID-19 in Campeche, Mexico. RDIF, the Russian entity that paid for the vaccine’s development, said these vaccines were fake after Mexican authorities seized them from a private plane en route to Honduras on March 17. (Mexican tax agency SAT via AP)

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) — A Honduran company said Tuesday that it had no intention of illegally bringing several thousand COVID-19 doses into the country when Mexican customs officials found them on a private plane last week.

Grupo Karim’s said in a statement that the vaccine was not intended to be sold in Honduras, but rather to be given free to its employees and their families. The company said its employees had been hit hard by the pandemic and it was looking for a way to help them.

Customs agents and soldiers found 1,155 vials containing more than 5,700 doses inside two coolers packed with ice and sodas at the airport in Campeche. The crew and Honduran passengers were turned over to the Attorney General’s Office.

Mexican officials did not identify the doses as fake, but the Russian Direct Investment Fund said in a statement Thursday that after reviewing photographs of the packaging, they determined the vaccine to be fake.

Grupo Karim’s did not offer any details about the vaccine’s purchase or its authenticity. The company has 20,000 direct employees.

A source in the Honduran aviation industry, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the case, confirmed that Grupo Karim’s had rented the plane in San Pedro Sula.

Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office continues to investigate the vaccine seizure. A federal official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation remained open, said Tuesday that the contents of the vaccine vials continued and that no one was in custody.