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Head of Protek charged with bribery

Russian prosecutors have charged Vitaly Smerdov, the head of the country's largest pharmaceutical distributor Protek pharmaceutical, with bribing health insurance officials to receive sales licenses.

Russian prosecutors have charged Vitaly Smerdov, the head of the country's largest pharmaceutical distributor Protek pharmaceutical, with bribing health insurance officials to receive sales licenses.

Smerdov was arrested on 15 August and was a witness in an inquiry into corruption in Russia's Mandatory Medical Insurance Fund (FOMS) which opened in December 2006.

FOMS executives were accused of accepting bribes from the heads of regional branches of the fund, as well as pharmaceutical and other commercial companies involved in distributing medication and medical equipment under a state-run programme to provide free or subsidised drugs to low-income patients.

Smerdov has appealed against his arrest and the court's refusal to release him on bail of RUB 2m (USD 78,000). The lawyers said that the arrest and bail refusal were "illegal and unjustified" on the basis that bail had not been mentioned in the initial custody hearing.

Prosecutors defended their request for Smerdov's arrest on the basis that he could abscond abroad or exert pressure on witnesses. Smerdov's lawyers countered by saying that Smerdov had travelled abroad several times when he was a witness in the FOMS case and had always returned.

20th August 2007

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