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Greece steps up Novartis corruption probe after suicide attempt

Accelerates investigation into whether Novartis paid bribes to doctors and civil servants to drive sales
Novartis

A probe into alleged corruption by Novartis in Greece gathered pace this week after the attempted suicide of a company official on 1 January.

Greece's Justice Minister Stavos Kontonis has pledged to carry out a "swift and thorough" investigation into claims - bubbling away for a couple of months - that Novartis had paid bribes to Greek civil servants and doctors in order to encourage sales of its drugs in the domestic market.

The suicide attempt by a Novartis manager was thwarted by police but hit the front pages in Greece and raised pressure on the government to investigate, according to local media reports. The unnamed executive was one of 178 people due to be interviewed by police in connection with the case.

Greek prosecutors visited Novartis premises near Athens in order to gather evidence - with some reports suggesting US federal agents were assisting the investigation under the auspices of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

For Novartis, the probe comes in the wake of fresh corruption allegations in the US, as well as Turkey and South Korea, and after the company settled allegations of kickbacks involving specialty pharmacy prescribing of two of its drugs in the US in 2015. Last year Novartis also paid $25m to settle US charges that it bribed officials in China in breach of the FCPA.

In a statement, Novartis said it is "cooperating with the demands of authorities both local and foreign [and] is committed to the highest standards in matters of ethical business conduct and regulatory compliance in all aspects of its business".

The statement added that the company "takes very seriously all allegations of misconduct".

Novartis is just one of a number of big pharma companies facing scrutiny over dubious promotion tactics for products, with cooperation growing between law enforcement and regulators in the US and overseas.

Just last month, Teva paid a whopping $519m to the US federal government - the largest ever imposed on a corporation - to settle a case relating to the promotion of its multiple sclerosis drug Copaxone in Russia, Ukraine and Mexico.

Also in 2016, GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay a $20m penalty to settle charges that its China-based subsidiaries engaged in pay-to-prescribe schemes to increase sales, while AstraZeneca paid $5m to settle violations relating to improper payments made by subsidiaries in China and Russia to foreign officials.

Article by
Phil Taylor

5th January 2017

From: Sales

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