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Selling Covid test kits without legal documents needed - Once bitten, twice shy!

  • Perform: My Hanh (Translator: Linh Dieu Tran)
  • 23/07/2021

I was born with a congenital clubfoot. Even with treatment, my foot could never be like others’. Growing up as an agile risk-taker in business, I started a business online besides my main job as an office secretary in a company. Last mid-February, due to the Covid-19 epidemic, the company announced that it had been facing a difficult situation as the numbers of orders had decreased significantly. The company would not renew contracts of some employees when they expired, including mine. Thus, I could only support myself by selling online.

A week ago, there was a new case of Covid-19 in the neighboring district. I have been exposed to an F2 of this patient, which made my family and I always live in a state of anxiety and confusion during the next few days. One night, on the recommendation of a relative, I contacted a reputable Korean salesman selling hand-carried goods including Covid-19 test kits. According to the seller, these test kits originated from Korea with fast results and accuracy of about 95%, and Korean domestic pharmacies all sold these kits. Each test kit was accompanied by a user manual. The cost was VND 280,000 each or VND 550,000 for a set of two. After considering, I ordered two sets to use. When I first received them, I was quite doubtful because the user manuals were not provided in Vietnamese but Korean, however, the goods were still fully enclosed and sealed, so I was somewhat reassured. To be certain, I carefully searched for the information about these kits on the internet and rested assured that these products were of Korean origin after looking up the barcode. Even though my family didn't understand Korean, we were still able to perform the test following the steps described in the illustration in the user manual. After the test kits gave us negative results, my family and I breathed a sigh of relief.

A few days later, the provincial news reported that there were more cases of Covid-19. In the chat group of the Persons with Disabilities' Club in the commune, I saw some members talking about Covid-19 testing. Everyone was very concerned about the health of themselves and their families. Most of us were too afraid to go to the hospital for Covid-19 testing at that time due to the fear of cross-infection. We also believed that the more people needed Covid-19 testing, the longer it would take to get the results... Amidst everyone's heated discussion, I texted back that I had used a Covid-19 rapid test kit from Korea with high sensitivity, fast result time, and could be performed at home. Everyone was skeptical at first, so I sent a picture of the box and told everyone to find out on the internet about the Korean Covid-19 test kit. An hour later, two female members texted me asking to buy.

I thought the test kit would soon be a hot seller, so I looked for product sources to import. I contacted the seller and they said the wholesale price was 15% lower than retail. However, because the shipment from Korea to Vietnam was facing many difficulties, I had to wait two weeks to receive the goods, but was assured that the goods were genuinely Korean. The seller asked me to deposit VND 500,000. I received 10 Covid-19 rapid test kits on time. To accelerate sales, I posted products on e-commerce sites where I had an account. I sold two sets in just three days. I thought I would make a big profit, but I never would have guessed...

At nine o'clock in the morning when I just woke up and was still kind of sleepy, I rushed to open the door after hearing the doorbell. Someone in uniform presented his Market Inspection Card to me, saying: “This is the Market Surveillance Agency. We are here to perform an ad-hoc examination on individuals doing business activities.” For the past few days, there had been a few establishments around my area getting examined, but I didn't expect it would happen to my business because of my subjective thought: "I don’t have any signs or banners for my business, so the Market Surveillance Agency would probably not know to come to check."

Being suddenly examined, I was worried and mumbled: "Yes... But I don't sell counterfeit products..." After that, an officer of the examination team announced and handed me the examination decision on inspecting the legal compliance in goods, invoices, and documents related to the products I was trading. There were about eight test kits in my house, including three Covid-19 rapid test kits that I had packaged and addressed. Noticing that I kept fumbling, one officer requested: "Please provide legal documents about the origin of the goods you are possessing". I don't have any legal proof because I bought them via someone else without any documents, just the goods, no contracts, no invoices; the seller’s Facebook account I used to contact was also locked then. How could I find the seller again? After the inspection, they took pictures of all eight Covid-19 test kits and recorded them in the report, asking me to read and sign.

Seeing the situation was getting more intense, I cried: “I only run a small business online, I don't have a store. Many people have been asking about the rapid test kits, so I just imported it for sale. To be frank, there is no proof of the origin of these kits. I bought them from others and the seller guaranteed they were genuine, so I am assured I do not sell fake goods, but I don’t have the documents as you requested. I hope you will forgive me for the first time. Next time, when getting the goods to sell, I will take the papers carefully." Then they asked me to bring documents proving the legitimate products after 24 hours. They also informed me that all of these goods would be temporarily seized for further verification and investigation.

One day later, I showed up at the headquarters of the Market Surveillance Agency to confess that I didn’t have appropriate documents. After that, I was explained that biological products and test kits for SARS-CoV-2 imported into Vietnam must be approved and licensed by the Appraisal Council, Department of Medical Equipment and Works (Ministry of Health) before being traded. Not to mention if they were fraudulent test kits, they might give inaccurate results. Thus, they were not only unable to detect COVID-19 but could also risk spreading the disease to the community. Therefore, I was charged with trading contraband. After receiving the decision to sanction administrative violations, I was fined VND 3,000,000 and had all these kits confiscated. I paid the fine and then went home shamefully… It was a painful lesson about online business that I would long remember and never dare to repeat.

1. According to Clause 1, Article 5 of the Government’s Decree 39/2007/ND-CP dated March 16, 2007 on individuals doing trade independently and regularly do not have to register for their businesses:

1. Individuals doing trade are permitted to do business in goods and services in accordance with law, except for the following goods and services:

b) Smuggled goods, counterfeits, goods without origin, goods expired for use, goods not eligible for food hygiene and safety in accordance with law; …

2. According to Clause 6, Article 3 of the Government’s Decree 98/2020/ND-CP dated August 26, 2020 on prescribing penalties for administrative violations against regulations on commerce, production and trade in counterfeit and prohibited goods, and protection of consumer rights:

6. “contraband goods” include:

a) Imported goods included in the list of goods banned from import or the list of goods temporarily suspended from import as prescribed by law, unless they are imported with the Prime Minister’s permission;

b) Goods imported without the required import license or without meeting given import conditions as prescribed by law;

c) Goods imported without going through a prescribed border checkpoint or without following customs procedures as prescribed by law, or the information on quantities or types of which is falsified when following customs procedures;

d) Imported goods sold on the market without accompanied invoices and documents as prescribed by law, or with unlawful invoices and documents;

dd) Goods, which are subject to import labeling, imported without bearing stamps as prescribed or with bearing false or used stamps.

3. According to Clause 1 and 2, Article 15 of the Government’s Decree 98/2020/ND-CP dated August 26, 2020 on prescribing penalties for administrative violations against regulations on commerce, production and trade in counterfeit and prohibited goods, and protection of consumer rights, the administrative penalty trading in contraband medical equipment ranges from VND 1,000,000 to VND 100,000,000 for individuals; from VND 2,000,000 to VND 200,000,000 for organizations depending on the value of contraband goods.