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SHANGHAI (Reuters) - French drugmaker Sanofi SA said it took "very seriously" allegations published in a Chinese newspaper on Thursday that its staff bribed more than 500 doctors in China in 2007 to raise sales.
An anonymous whistleblower, identified only through a false name "Pei Gen", told the 21st Century Business Herald newspaper that Sanofi staff paid bribes totaling around 1.7 million yuan ($277,800) to 503 doctors at 79 hospitals in Shanghai, Beijing, Hangzhou and Guangzhou in late 2007.
In a statement, Sanofi said it was aware of the report.
"At this time, it would be premature to comment on events that may have occurred in 2007," it said.
Sanofi has zero tolerance for any unethical practices, the statement added.
The newspaper report said the whistleblower had declined to reveal his identity, but that the nature of the content he provided led the paper to believe he was, or had been, a high-level employee with Sanofi in China.
Earlier this month Sanofi said one of its 11 regional offices in China had been visited by the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) in the wake of a wider crackdown on pricing manipulation and corruption in the sector.
Chinese police have detained four Chinese executives from GlaxoSmithKline in connection with allegations the British drugmaker funneled up to 3 billion yuan ($489 million) to travel agencies to facilitate bribes to doctors and officials.
GSK has said some of its Chinese executives appeared to have broken the law.
($1 = 6.1192 Chinese yuan)
Reporting by Adam Jourdan. Editing by Dean Yates