June 25, 2020 / 5:24 PM / 2 months ago

Novartis, former unit to pay $346 million to resolve U.S. bribery charges

(Reuters) - Novartis AG and a former eye-care unit will pay more than $346 million to resolve U.S. criminal and civil charges that they bribed doctors, hospitals and clinics in Greece and Vietnam to prescribe their drugs and use their surgical products.

FILE PHOTO: Swiss drugmaker Novartis' logo is seen at the company's plant in the northern Swiss town of Stein, Switzerland October 23, 2017. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The U.S. Department of Justice said on Thursday that Novartis Hellas, a Greece-based unit of the Swiss drugmaker, entered a deferred prosecution agreement and will pay a $225 million criminal fine.

Novartis will also pay $112.8 million to settle related civil charges by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Alcon Pte, now part of Alcon AG, entered its own deferred prosecution agreement and will pay an $8.9 million criminal fine. Novartis spun off Alcon in April 2019.

The settlements resolve charges that both units violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), a U.S. anti-bribery law.

Authorities said Novartis Hellas conspired from 2012 to 2015 to bribe employees of state-owned hospitals and clinics in Greece to buy more Novartis-branded drugs including Lucentis, which treats a form of age-related vision loss.

The Alcon unit was accused of having from 2011 to 2014 used a third-party distributor to quietly funnel payments to employees of state-owned hospitals and clinics in Vietnam to boost sales of intraocular lenses, which are used to treat cataracts.

U.S. authorities also accused units of falsifying books and records to conceal the bribes.

Shannon Thyme Klinger, Novartis’ group general counsel, in a statement said the drugmaker was pleased to have resolved all its outstanding FCPA investigations.

Novartis also said the settlements contain no allegations regarding any bribery of Greek politicians, consistent with its own internal findings.

An Alcon spokesman said that company was also pleased to settle.

The Justice Department said both fines reflect reductions because of cooperation by Novartis and Alcon.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Additional reporting by Chris Prentice in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Bill Berkrot

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