The company called Pharmacy Express has been very much in the news in the past month. And that's because it is being considered for a 7 million dollar loan from the Social Security Board - which is considering investing workers' money into the company - which is headquartered on the highway in a non descriptor building.

The loan proposal provoked quite a firestorm of controversy, and the bad vibes were made official when the Ministry of Health And Wellness sent out a release to say is had "some concerns" about the proposed loan.

It wasn't clear exactly what the Ministry's precise problems with Pharmacy Express were, but that came into sharper focus today when a team of drug inspectors descended on the pharmacy's retail operations inside the Fort Street Tourism Village. Cherisse Halsall was there all day - and has this report.

At around 9:30 this morning The Ministry of Health moved into the Fort Street Tourism Village to search four drug stores owned by Pharmacy Express. We were locked out but we saw health personnel inside the pharmacies doing their work.

And they had a lot of work to do - scouring four pharmacies for irregularities. They are: Pharmacy Save, Pharmacy Express, Village Discount Pharmacy and RX - short for prescription.

They are all under the ownership umbrella of Pharmacy Express Ltd., a company owned by Angela and Julius Zabaneh.

A senior drug inspector had a suspicion that these pharmacies were selling controlled drugs without a prescription.

But their inspection ran into a roadblock when inspectors reportedly found desks that had locked drawers with no keys to be found. According to reports the owners were contacted but never showed up to open the drawers. So that's when the police were called and they were told they couldn't conduct a search without a warrant.

STANDUP
Police have been called into the Fort Street Tourism village as backup to the Ministry of Health and Wellness, whose personnel is conducting searches on pharmacies owned and operated by Pharmacy Express. Now, after two of the company's four pharmacies were searched, the company has called in its attorney - and it's shaping up to be a standoff.

A standoff solved soon enough when precinct three police police obtained those warrants and picked up a justice of the peace for her to witness them breeching the locks inside the pharmacies. They did so in two of the pharmacies and reportedly found controlled drugs within the drawers. For reasons that are still unclear, they did not search the remaining two pharmacies. Reports say a call came in to stand down on the operation.

No one would give a comment...

All the Director of Health and Wellness, Dr. Melissa Diaz would tell us via text is "I don't have any comment at this time. (The) team is conducting evaluation of pharmacies throughout the country."

Still, there was a lot collected at these two drug stores, and all the drugs were taken to the Central Health region for storage and documentation. It was witnessed by Attorney for the Zabaneh's, Hector Guerra who notably, told us it was all illegal:

Hector Guerra, Attorney-At-Law
"Because the matter is still in its nascent stage I would not want to want to comment much on the matter I will just confine myself to saying that what has happened today was unlawful and excessive."

But the Ministry of Health believes that it is within their lawful authority to confiscate controlled drugs, especially in a case like this where reports say there was no licensed pharmacist at the location.

We did ask the lead attorney for the Zabaneh's, Godfrey Smith for comment and he would only say that, quote:

The police are unlawfully on the premises of Julius Zabaneh (our client) preventing his managers from closing in compliance with a closure order from MOH. They want to search but have no warrant. This is illegal. The police are also refusing to allow workers to leave the stores. The GOB can expect a lawsuit.

And while there may be legal action over what was confiscated from the first two pharmacies - as you saw, the search was abandoned before authorities could get to the the second two pharmacies - again, reportedly on a directive from above.

Some time ago a statement from Pharmacy Express quoted in the Amandala defended the company against backlash over the proposed Social Security loan. At the time the company said of it's business model, quote:

"Our business caters strictly to foreign clientele who arrive on cruise ships. Noteworthy is that our products have never and will never be distributed in the local market," noted the company in its statement.

Channel 7