The seizure in Mexico of COVID-19 vaccine smuggled aboard a private plane linked to a Honduran textile magnate marks the first instance of alleged transnational vaccine smuggling in Latin America — in a mysterious case that betrays a pattern of clandestine deals between economic and political elites keen to access the vaccine.
Customs officials discovered more than 1,000 vials labeled Russian Sputnik V in the bottom of a portable cooler — filled with soda and ice cream bars — on a plane at the Campeche airport destined for the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, according to a March 17 news release by Mexico’s Tax Administration Sevice (Servicio de Administración Tributaria). The flight’s pilots and passengers were detained and presented before the Attorney General of the Republic (Fiscalía General de la República – FGR).
According to the aircraft’s flight manifest, which circulated in the Honduran press, the plane was transporting the executive vice president of Grupo Karim’s, an international textile and real estate company with offices in San Pedro Sula.
Mohamad Yusuf Amdani Bai, one of the wealthiest businessmen in Honduras, is the owner of Grupo Karim’s and has invested millions of dollars in Mexico, including building a corporate office in Campeche and a forthcoming manufacturing plant, which is expected to create 1,200 jobs in the state. He also maintains a relationship with the governor of Campeche, Carlos Miguel Aysa González, who received a personal donation of 6,000 N95 masks from Grupo Karim’s last April.
Grupo Karim’s said in a statement that the vaccine
was not intended to be sold in Honduras but to be given free to its employees and their families, the Associated Press reported.
Shortly after their detention, the plane’s crew and passengers, which included other businessmen and doctors, were released, according to two high-ranking members of the Mexican Army who spoke with Univision. According to the officials, a government agency in Mexico City had issued an order that they be set free.
Following the Sputnik V vaccine
seizure, a photograph analysis of the doses led Russian authorities to brand the product as fake, according to a statement released by Russia’s Direct Investment Fund. However, a spokesperson at Mexico’s General Attorney’s Office told Univision that it was too early to determine its authenticity.