In light of the kickback charges being levied against drug maker Novartis, the company’s chairman seems to be somewhat dismissive. Last week Jaclyn Jaeger, writing in this publication, noted the unrepentant attitude of the Chairman Jörg Reinhardt who said at the annual shareholder’s meeting that the company is “working fully with relevant authorities. We are also carrying out a detailed investigation of our own. These investigations are going to take a lot of time, because we have to look at all of our interactions with thousands of doctors over a ten-year period.” He then added, “So far, the authorities have not brought any formal charges against Novartis or against any of our employees … They may never be proven. I don’t believe we should simply assume that the press is correct about the level of issues involved. Myself and my colleagues will clear this with authorities.”
These sentiments may not quite belie the truth, as there are now reports that Greek politicians received over €50m (U.S.$62M) in bribes over the five-year period. This comes on top of prior allegations that the country’s former health minister working between 2009 and 2010 allegedly accepted €120,000 (U.S.$147,000) from the company and laundered it through a computer hardware firm.
Such huge amounts of money might seem a bit, well, unseemly. Yet, Novartis does not appear to be overly concerned, noting it will take appropriate action if anything untoward is found. Now imagine you are a Novartis employee, listening to all of these senior executive comments, what is the message? It appears that if there are no criminal charges brought, you are in the clear. Moreover, it clearly sends a message that the way you do business is not as important as doing business. Not exactly the tone regulators might like to see from the top of an organization.