Cardinal Health has been fined $8.8 million for its role in a bribery scheme aimed at boosting the sales of a European skincare company for which it was the exclusive distributor in China.
According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, employees of Cardinal China used its marketing accounts to make improper payments to employees of state-owned retail entities who had influence over purchasing decisions related to the skincare company’s products.
Between 2013 through 2016, the SEC said in an administrative order, Cardinal China authorized and paid more than $250 million from the accounts, with Cardinal earning about $5.4 million in distribution margin from sales of the client’s products during that time.
Under the terms of a settlement announced on Friday, the company agreed to disgorge the $5.4 million plus interest of $916,887 and pay a $2.5 million penalty for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
“Cardinal’s foreign subsidiary hired thousands of employees and maintained financial accounts on behalf of a supplier without implementing anti-bribery controls surrounding these high-risk business practices,” Anita B. Bandy, an associate director in the SEC’s Division of Enforcement, said in a news release.
Cardinal entered the Chinese market in 2010 by acquiring the subsidiaries of an established pharmaceutical distribution company. According to the SEC, it terminated most of the marketing accounts it inherited due to FCPA-related compliance risks but maintained the relationship with the European supplier after inaccurately assessing the risks as minimal.
“As a result, Cardinal China did not subject the marketing employees, who it employed on behalf of the [skincare] company, to its full internal accounting controls, such as providing FCPA and anti-bribery training,” the commission said.
The alleged improper payments took the form of cash, luxury goods, gift cards and travel.
The SEC said a Cardinal China employee raised questions about the legality of the marketing accounts as early as December 2012 and, in July 2015, the vice-president of compliance told a colleague that the gap in controls had created an “enormous compliance risk” in China.