Just ask Hewlett-Packard, Alcoa and Avon — the U.S. government is taking foreign bribery seriously in 2014. Now, pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) could be the next to feel the bribery sting.
The company announced on April 16 that it is investigating claims into possible bribery of foreign doctors in Jordan and Lebanon. The Wall Street Journal reports that GSK offered these doctors flexible travel arrangements and free samples that were later flipped for money.
According to one source, GSK gave Jordanian doctors up to 60 free samples of the vaccine Synflorix, which were later sold at up to $70 a vial. In Lebanon, meanwhile, GSK allegedly provided Synflorix to doctors for free as well as made payments to “key opinion-leader” doctors in order to flush out competition.
Emails reviewed by the WSJ also detail abuse of company travel regulations. Jordanian doctors would be given free business-class tickets by the company to attend conferences, but they would then flip the tickets for economy-class seats, allowing spouses or others to come along for free due to the change in value.
GSK says that it does not believe it has a systemic problem with bribery and that these charges are isolated. It also noted in a statement that it has a zero tolerance policy for bribery and holds strict compliance controls in place for the region.
“In total, we employ around 200 people in Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq in our pharmaceuticals operations and these allegations relate to a small number of individuals in these countries,” the company’s statement to the WSJ said.
However, there are still many steps to go in GSK’s investigation. As Marcus Christian of Mayer Brown recently wrote for InsideCounsel, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations are inherently tricky because of the many foreign regulations involved in the Act’s enforcement. “To minimize risk in the process, companies should have an investigations protocol in place ahead of time and, once an investigation is underway, they should be careful to evaluate the collateral consequences of every step of the investigation under foreign law before acting,” Christian said.
For more on bribery in legal news, check out these recent articles: