GlaxoSmithKline faces fraud probe by UK authorities

GlaxoSmithKline is to be investigated by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office in connection with its “commercial practices”.

While the UK watchdog has released very few details of its investigation, the new probe is likely to be linked to allegations of bribery and corruption levelled at GSK in several countries over the past 12 months.

Earlier this month, authorities in China accused GSK staff of systematic bribery of government and hospital officials in the country.

These allegations first surfaced in July 2013, with the Chinese regulators now pursuing the firm over an apparently orchestrated system of bribes totalling 3 billion yuan (£285 million) to encourage doctors to use its medicines. The company described the case as “shameful” and replaced its head of China operations – but since then similar accusations have emerged in other countries.

GSK is now facing claims that bribes were also paid to doctors in Poland, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

Legal experts say allegations of bribery in Poland could be particularly damaging, because as a member of the European Union, GSK would be expected to uphold the same standards in Poland as in any other EU state.

If any of the allegations are proved, Glaxo may have violated both the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. These laws make it illegal for companies based in the US or UK to bribe government employees abroad.

In a statement released to the BBC, the Serious Fraud Office confirmed it had “opened a criminal investigation into the commercial practices of GlaxoSmithKline plc and its subsidiaries”. The agency added that “whistleblowers are valuable sources of information to the SFO in its cases” and that it welcomes “approaches from anyone with inside information on all our cases including this one”.

In April, the BBC Panorama programme uncovered the story of a former GSK sales rep in the Poland who claimed doctors had been paid to promote the firm’s blockbuster asthma drug Seretide. The investigation found that 11 doctors and a GSK regional manager in Poland were charged in relation to alleged corruption between 2010 and 2012.

GSK has already confirmed that it informed the SFO, as well as the US Department of Justice and the US Securities and Exchange Commission, about the Chinese investigation. The company said simply in a statement that it was “committed to operating its business to the highest ethical standards” and would “continue to co-operate fully with the SFO.”

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GSK faces criminal charges of bribery in Poland

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