An employee inspects syringes of the vaccine for COVID-19 produced by SinoVac at its factory in Beijing on September 24, 2020. Ng Han Guan/Associated Press

Kong Mou made $2.8 million by selling 58,000 syringes of salt water, Chinese authorities said.

He told customers that he obtained the shots through “internal channels,” state media said.

Kong and his associates earned about 18 million yuan ($2.7 million) as a result of the scheme.

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China has arrested the leader of a gang that made nearly $3 million from selling shots of water disguised as COVID-19 vaccines, according to state-run media.

The Supreme People’s Procuratorate – China’s top prosecuting body – said that Kong Mou and his associates filled 58,000 syringes with saline solution and sold them across China, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Kong, who was arrested on December 25, 2020, had boasted to customers that he had obtained the shots from vaccine manufacturers through “internal channels,” the Global Times reported.

The group earned 18 million yuan ($2.8 million) as a result of the scheme, according to the Global Times.

In one case last November, Kong sold 2,000 shots of the fake vaccine to another suspected criminal named as Li for 1.04 million yuan ($61,053), the Global Times said.

Li, who shipped 600 of those doses internationally via Hong Kong on November 12, went on to make a $140,000 profit, the outlet said.

A team disinfecting the Wuhan Qintai Grand Theatre in China on January 24, 2021. Xia Junjun/VCG via Getty Images

The bust on Kong was first announced on February 2, when around 80 people were arrested in relation to vaccine scams, according to China’s Ministry of Public Security.

On Monday, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate said it would deepen its crackdown on fake vaccine manufacturing, the Global Times reported, adding that there were more than 21 cases of major vaccine fraud across China.

The BBC reported that some counterfeit vaccines have been sold to hospitals in China at inflated prices and that some scammers were hiring “village doctors” to administer fake vaccines to people in their cars.

As of this month, China has now approved two of its own vaccines for public use.

Story continues

A vaccine made by Sinovac was approved for general use on February 6, following the approval of a shot made by Sinopharm on December 31.

Read more: What’s coming next for COVID-19 vaccines? Here’s the latest on 11 leading programs.

Both shots were given emergency-use authorization last summer.

As of February 9, around 40 million people had received their first vaccine shot in China, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing figures from China’s national health commission.

The figure is less than half of the 100 million doses that China hoped to administer by Lunar New Year, which fell on February 12.

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