LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s fraud office is working with authorities in China in a first for such Anglo-Chinese cooperation as it carries out its own investigation into alleged corruption at drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L).
“Certainly, so far as I am aware it is the first time we have had cooperation with the Chinese on an SFO case,” David Green, the head of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), said in an interview with Reuters on Wednesday.
Green, who said he had visited China earlier this year, said the Chinese government had a clear interest in rooting out bribery and corruption although it might have “slightly different perspectives” than the SFO.
The SFO launched a formal criminal investigation into Britain’s biggest drugmaker in May, posing a new challenge to the company, which has been accused by Chinese police of funneling up to 3 billion yuan ($480 million) in bribes to encourage doctors to use its medicines.
The SFO action came less than two weeks after Chinese police announced on May 14 that they had charged the former British boss of GSK’s China business and other colleagues with corruption.
The U.S. Department of Justice is also investigating GSK for possible breaches of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits payments to government officials, including state-employed doctors, to obtain business overseas.
Britain’s relatively new Bribery Act also prohibits such overseas bribes.
Since the case in China blew up in July last year, allegations of GSK bribery have surfaced in other countries and GSK is now investigating claims that bribes were also paid to doctors in Poland, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.
Green said the SFO was looking into GSK’s behavior in a number of jurisdictions, including Europe and the Middle East. In many cases, the facts behind the allegations have still to be established - and his office has asked for assistance from whistleblowers.
“Suffice to say we have a number of sources of information,” Green said.
GSK Chief Executive Andrew Witty has described the allegations in China as “shameful”. However, he declined to comment in detail about the case when questioned by reporters after presenting second-quarter results.
“I remain very concerned about allegations concerning our China business. The situation is complicated and difficult and while the investigation is active there is little I can add,” Witty said.
Additional reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by Mark Potter