[Editor's note: This article previously incorrectly stated that Maithili Vijayakumar paid $35 per bottle of 60 weight loss capsules. She paid $55 for each bottle. The article has been updated.]
SINGAPORE — A woman was fined $6,000 on Thursday (6 May) after selling weight loss pills containing a substance that has been banned due to its increased risk of heart attacks and strokes to consumers.
Maithili Vijayakumar, 37, pleaded guilty to possessing 13 bottles containing a total of 780 capsules, which were found to contain sibutramine, a poison listed in the Schedule to the Poisons Act.
The Health Sciences Authority (HSA) banned sibutramine in 2010. Prior to that, It was a prescription-only-medicine for weight loss.
The Clinic K-branded capsules sold by Maithili were marketed to be of “safe medical grade” and the “No. 1 clinical weight-loss formula in Korea” in online platforms Qoo10, Instagram and Shopee that she had advertised on.
Maithili, a Singaporean, ordered the capsules in January last year for her own consumption and found it was effective. Between February and March last year, she ordered more than 200 bottles to sell in Singapore.
She paid $55 per bottle and marked up the selling price to either $99 or $110 per bottle. She managed to sell off most of her stock over two-and-a-half-months.
HSA seized 13 bottles at Maithili's home at Tampines during an inspection on 22 June last year. Each bottle contained 60 capsules, with the level of sibutramine detected in the product to be double the maximum daily dose allowed.
Maithili had claimed in her advertisements that the capsules contained natural ingredients such as amino acids, green tea extract, and other botanical extracts. The marketing material also included a warning of potential effects such as nausea, dizziness, restlessness and rapid heartbeat due to the product’s “caffeine content”.
HSA prosecutor Debra Ann Tan told the court that this misled consumers into thinking that the effects are normal and expected when they are actually the adverse effects associated with sibutramine.
According to a press release by HSA in June last year, the most serious case involving sibutramine was reported in 2019, when a consumer experienced an extremely fast heart rate and lost consciousness. The woman required resuscitation to save her life and now suffers from severe heart failure and has been implanted with a defibrillator.
One woman in her 40s bought one bottle of Clinic K for $110 from Qoo10 in mid-May last year. After two days of consuming the capsules, she experienced rapid heartbeat, breathlessness and dizziness.
Even after reducing the dose to half of what was recommended, and stopping consumption of the product after five days, these symptoms persisted for a few weeks. She contacted HSA in May to provide feedback and handed over the pills for laboratory analysis.
Tan said that Maithili had earned a “substantial profit” of between $8,226 and $10,285. She sought a fine of $7,000.
Lawyer Kalaithasan Karuppaya asked for a lower fine, stating that his client had pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity and had stopped selling the product immediately after being notified by the HSA.
While the lawyer claimed Maithili had refunded her customers, Tan replied that investigations revealed that no such action was taken.
For possessing for sale the poison, Maithili could have been jailed up to two years, and/or fined up to $10,000.
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