The Australian Federal Police (AFP) has launched investigations into rapid antigen test (RAT) price gouging and is warning individuals and businesses they face five years’ imprisonment for re-selling COVID-19 tests for more than 20% of the original retail purchase price.
Two investigations have begun in Queensland and NSW after referrals from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
More referrals are expected and will be coordinated under the AFP’s Taskforce LOTUS, which was established in 2021 as a targeted and scalable response to potential criminal threats to the COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
Taskforce LOTUS will refer allegations of RAT price gouging to Australia-wide AFP strike teams, which have access to the AFP’s world-leading technical and forensic capabilities, the AFP said today.
The strike teams have the powers to force individuals or businesses engaged in price gouging to surrender the RATs, which will be sent to the National Medical Stockpile.
AFP Assistant Commissioner Crime Command Nigel Ryan said there would be zero tolerance for those who were profiteering from RATs at the expense of the Australian public.
“The AFP will use its full powers to crack down on RAT price gouging. Not only is price gouging of RATs unethical but it is illegal, and the AFP will use its significant resources to ensure it protects the public from the unlawful greed of others,’’ Assistant Commissioner Ryan said.
“Commonwealth and state agencies are working together on this issue, and under Taskforce LOTUS, the AFP makes no apologies for upholding the law to help keep Australians safe.
“Those who breach the law face penalties of up to five years’ jail or a $66,000 fine. My message is clear. Do not risk jail time or a significant fine for a few extra dollars.”
To date, the AFP has not seized or surrendered any RATs, PPE or other relevant medical supplies to the National Medical Stockpile.
Taskforce LOTUS is coordinating its price gouging response with state and territory law enforcement, commonwealth agencies and international partners, the AFP said.
Allegations of the illegal import or export of essential medical goods, including RATs and personal protective equipment, will also be coordinated under Taskforce LOTUS.
Under the legislation, the AFP has the power to investigate claims of RAT price gouging when a retailer or individual buys RATs from another retailer and sells those RATs with a mark-up of more than 20%. It does not apply to retailers who buy from a wholesaler.
For example, if a tobacconist buys RATs from a chemist and then sells those RATs for more than 20% of what they were purchased for, that tobacconist faces criminal charges under the law.