ABUJA (Reuters) - The Nigerian federal government has filed criminal charges against U.S. drugmaker Pfizer alleging improper behavior in a 1996 drug trial in the northern state of Kano in which it says 11 children died.
The federal government was already seeking $6.5 billion in a separate civil case. The government of Kano state is also seeking $2 billion in damages from Pfizer and has filed separate criminal charges too.
The criminal charges by the federal authorities were filed in May but this was not made public at the time. The case was due to come up for the first time in court on Wednesday, but was adjourned to October 29 in the absence of any representatives of the defendants.
“There are several processes which the government needs to go through especially when you have foreign defendants,” said government lawyer Babatunde Irukera.
Under Nigerian law, defendants in criminal trials must be present. A source at the Justice Ministry said two of the nine defendants were under arrest, without specifying the names.
The defendants include Pfizer Inc., its Nigerian arm and seven company executives, staff and associates.
The case centers on 200 children who were given drugs during a meningitis outbreak in 1996, including Pfizer’s antibiotic Trovan.
The 23 criminal charges include importing an illegal drug, failing to obtain a trial certificate, misleading patients and procuring a forged trial certificate.
In the civil case, the Nigerian government says Pfizer deceived authorities about the details of the tests and caused the deaths of 11 children and permanent health problems for many others.
Pfizer has steadfastly denied the allegations.
In various defense statements filed in Kano state and federal courts, Pfizer has contested the validity of evidence against it and said it acted legally and ethically at all times.
The company was not immediately available for comment on the release of the criminal charges.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared Trovan for adult use in 1997 but did not approve the drug for use by children.
A U.S. federal judge in 2005 dismissed a suit against Pfizer about the same case, saying it should be heard in a Nigerian court.