The increasingly international bribery investigation into British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline has led to unusual cooperation between U.K. and Chinese anti-fraud officials.
David Green, director of the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), told Reuters in an interview last week that this is the first time he is aware of Chinese officials cooperating in an SFO case.
Both governments are investigating allegations that GSK employees in its China unit bribed doctors with cash and gifts to boost drug sales in the market. Chinese officials have accused the company’s former China head, Mark Reilly, and other GSK employees with a widespread bribery scheme involving as much as 3 billion yuan. The corruption allegations, along with a sex tape of Reilly and his girlfriend, were sent to company executives last year by a whistleblower. A pair of investigators hired by the company to investigate the origins of the tape also is facing prosecution in China for violating information laws.
Shortly after Chinese officials announced charges this May, the SFO announced the launch of its own criminal investigation into the GSK allegations. Green, who told Reuters he visited China earlier this year, said the Chinese government has a clear interest in combating bribery and corruption but might use “slightly different perspectives” than the SFO, the article said.
The U.K. Bribery Act covers offenses committed domestically as well as on foreign soil. Since the Chinese allegations surfaced, GSK has been hit with more bribery allegations in Poland, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and just last week, Syria.
Green told Reuters that his office is investigating allegations arising from multiple jurisdictions, including Europe and the Middle East. “Suffice to say we have a number of sources of information,” Green was quoted as saying by Reuters.
During an announcement regarding GSK’s quarterly performance, the company’s chief executive, Sir Andrew Witty, reaffirmed his company’s commitment to anti-bribery policies, according to a report by The Guardian.
“I remain very concerned about allegations concerning our China business. The situation is complicated and difficult and while the investigation is active, there is little I can add,” Witty was quoted as saying by the Guardian.
The beleaguered pharmaceutical giant acknowledged earlier this month it had previously fired employees in its China unit in 2001 for bribery.
“In a company of our size, operating in almost every country in the world, there’s always a small potential for some people to step outside procedure,” Witty said, according to the report. “This isn’t acceptable, and where we are aware of misconduct, we take action including dismissal from the company.”
Witty also pointed out that the company has since changed its business model concerning how sales representatives are rewarded and put a halt to payments to doctors for attending conferences or speaking on the company’s behalf.