Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Pfizer faces inquiry over foreign bribery in China

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Pfizer Inc. said it received an inquiry from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s foreign-bribery unit regarding the drugmaker’s operations in China.

The inquiry was disclosed in Pfizer’s third-quarter financial statement, which was filed with regulators Thursday. It follows other informal requests for information by the SEC and the U.S. Justice Department related to Pfizer’s business in China and Russia.

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New York-based Pfizer received the SEC inquiry about its China operations in August, and the Justice Department inquiry in June, the company said. The inquiries were sent from the agencies’ Foreign Corrupt Practices Act units.

The FCPA prohibits companies from paying bribes to foreign officials to gain a business advantage. The SEC and the Justice Department play a role in enforcing the law.

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The SEC and Justice Department’s FCPA units last year requested information about Pfizer’s operations in Russia, according to the filing.

Pfizer said it was producing records in response to the requests. A company spokeswoman declined to comment further on the disclosure.

Companies in the health-care sector have long been the subject of scrutiny by antibribery authorities, in part due to their frequent interaction with foreign officials and regulators. In many countries, hospitals and clinics are state-run, and doctors and other health-care professionals can be considered government officials.

Boston-based Alexion Pharmaceuticals Inc. in July agreed to pay more than $21 million to settle claims it bribed officials to increase prescription drug sales in Turkey and Russia. In June, Swiss drugmaker Novartis AG and a former subsidiary reached a combined $347 million settlement to resolve allegations that the companies ran schemes to bribe public hospitals in Greece, Vietnam and South Korea.

Pfizer has had past run-ins with U.S. authorities over allegations of bribery among its operations abroad. The company in 2012 agreed to pay $60.2 million to settle investigations by the SEC and the Justice Department into alleged violations of the FCPA in several countries in Europe and Asia, including China and Russia.

Pfizer is among the companies developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. In October, the company said a global late-stage trial evaluating its experimental vaccine was almost fully enrolled with participants.

The U.S. government has placed an initial order with Pfizer for 100 million doses of any completed vaccine, with the option to purchase 500 million additional doses.

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