AstraZeneca to pay $5.52 million to resolve SEC foreign bribery case

(Reuters) - U.S. regulators said on Tuesday that AstraZeneca Plc AZN.L will pay $5.52 million to resolve a foreign bribery probe into improper payments by its sales and marketing staff to state-employed healthcare officials in China and Russia.

A sign is seen at an AstraZeneca site in Macclesfield, central England May 19, 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission detailed the settlement with the London-based drug company in an order instituting an administrative proceeding arising out of violations of provisions in the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

AstraZeneca, which cooperated with the probe, neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing. In a statement, it said the U.S. Justice Department has meanwhile closed a related foreign bribery investigation.

“We are pleased to have resolution of these matters,” the company said.

Neither the SEC nor Justice Department responded to requests for comment.

The SEC said that AstraZeneca through at least 2010 failed to devise and maintain a system of internal accounting controls relating to its subsidiaries’ interactions with Chinese and Russian government officials.

Sales and marketing staff in those countries as far back as 2005 provided gifts, conference support, travel, cash and other benefits to the state-employed healthcare providers to buy or prescribe the company’s products, the SEC said.

The company’s Chinese subsidiary also paid healthcare providers speaker fees, sometimes for “totally fabricated” engagements, and in 2008, paid local officials to get reductions or dismissals of proposed financial sanctions it faced, the SEC said.

AstraZeneca also falsely recorded the improper payments in China and Russia as bona fide business expenses, the SEC said.

The regulator said AstraZeneca cooperated with the probe, which factored into the size of the penalty that was assessed against it.

The SEC also said the company has been addressing deficiencies in its compliance program and taking various steps with employees involved in the case, resulting in some being reassigned or fired.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; editing by Alan Crosby, G Crosse