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FRANKFURT, March 3 (Reuters) - A German court convicted two former employees of Sanofi-Aventis on bribery charges 10 months ago and imposed a fine on the French drugmaker last year, prosecutors said on Monday following a newspaper report.
News of the 28 million euro ($39 million) fine coincides with heightened scrutiny of Big Pharma's sales practices after a bribery scandal in China hit business there last year.
Further investigations are ongoing, a spokesman for prosecutors in the northern German town of Verden said, confirming a report by German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, but they declined to say whether these were related to Sanofi or to its employees.
The spokesman said an investigation of the former Sanofi employees found that they had made illicit payments to a consultancy advising one of the drugmaker's clients between 2007 and 2010 to win more orders from the client, a pharmaceuticals dealer.
"Sanofi was unfairly given preference because of this," he said.
He declined to provide details on who the client was or which markets it operated in. He also did not name the former Sanofi employees or the consultant.
A court in the town of Winsen handed the two former employees of Sanofi suspended sentences for bribery in business transactions in May 2013, the spokesman said. They both worked with Sanofi's sales force and were not senior managers.
The Winsen court also ordered that punishment be meted out to the owner of the consultancy, but that judgment was not yet final due to a pending complaint against the ruling.
The bribery investigation has not come to light until now because the suspects were sentenced via a simplified legal process that under German law allows courts to try some crimes without a courtroom trial.
The court's ruling also resulted in a 28 million euro fine for Sanofi. A spokeswoman for Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland GmbH confirmed the company had to pay that sum in connection with the case against the two former employees.
"For Sanofi the matter is closed," the spokeswoman said, referring to the Winsen court's rulings. She added the company had cooperated with authorities during the investigation and had since further tightened its compliance system.
Sanofi acquired Aventis in 2004, creating Sanofi-Aventis. In 2011, the company simplified its name to Sanofi.
$1 = 0.7240 euros Reporting by Maria Sheahan and Frank Siebelt; Additional reporting by Natalie Huet in Paris; Writing by Marilyn Gerlach; editing by Mike Collett-White