Claims of GSK corruption in Syria widen

GlaxoSmithKline is facing yet more scrutiny over its business practices, with claims emerging of bribery in its Syrian prescription drugs business adding to earlier allegations about its consumer health operations.

The latest claims – reported by Reuters – come shortly after a corporate risk investigator hired by the company to look into the corruption scandal in China was jailed for illegally obtaining Chinese citizens’ data and selling it to multinational companies.

An anonymous email sent to GSK’s chief executive Andrew Witty and Judy Lewent, who heads the company’s audit committee, alleges that it “has been engaging in multiple corrupt and illegal practices in conducting its pharmaceutical business in Syria.”

Reuters has seen the email and says it claims that Syrian doctors received cash kickbacks, as well as trips and free samples, in return for prescribing GSK anticoagulants and cancer drugs. It also suggests company bribed officials at Syria’s Ministry of Health.

The email gives the dates of the illicit payments and the names of the people involved, including a Syrian doctor who allegedly received between $200 and $300 a month in free samples in exchange for preferentially ordering GSK drugs for his hospital.

In July, another anonymous email suggested that GSK had paid bribes to promote the use of its Panadol painkiller, a key product in its consumer healthcare business that was shut down in 2012 as a result of the civil war in Syria. GSK has now indicated it will suspend distribution of its prescription drugs to the country while it investigates the latest allegations.

In addition to the scandals in China and Syria, GSK has also been linked to dubious practices in countries such as Poland, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon. Syria is a minor market for the company, accounting for sales of less than £6 million, but prior to the latest revelations GSK was one of the few remaining drugmakers supplying medicines to the country’s beleaguered population.

In a statement, GSK said it has “zero tolerance for any kind of unethical behaviour and we welcome people speaking up if they have concerns about alleged misconduct.”

It added that the latest claims “will be thoroughly investigated using internal and external resources as part of our ongoing investigation into operations in Syria.”

The relentless claims of corruption come shortly after authorities in both the UK and the US have started to probe GSK’s business practices under anti-corruption laws that leave the company vulnerable to prosecution even for crimes that were committed overseas.

No mention of GSK was made during the trial and the sentencing of investigator Peter Humphrey and his American wife Yu Yingzeng in China. However, the company will be dragged directly back into the spotlight when former GSK China head Mark Reilly appears in court to answer the corruption charges.

Humphrey was retained by GSK to look into the allegations made against GSK China via an anonymous letter in January 2013, and also to try to find out who was behind a sex tape featuring Reilly and his Chinese girlfriend that was sent to the company a few weeks later.



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