Drug Giant Faced a Reckoning as China Took Aim at Bribery

Prosecutors charged the global drug giant with giving kickbacks to doctors and hospital workers who prescribed its medicines. In 2014 Glaxo paid a nearly $500 million fine, at the time the largest ever in China for a multinational. Five senior executives in China pleaded guilty, including the head of Glaxo’s Chinese operations, a British national, in a rare prosecution of a Western executive. With Glaxo embroiled in scandal, sales plummeted in China, the company’s fastest-growing market.

An anonymous 5,200-word email in January 2013 to the Glaxo board laid out a detailed map to a fraud in the Chinese operations.

Written in perfect English, the email was organized like a corporate memo. Under the header “Conference Trip Vacations for Doctors,” the whistle-blower wrote that medical professionals received all-expenses-paid trips under the guise of attending international conferences. The company covered the costs of airline tickets and hotel rooms, and handed out cash for meals and sightseeing excursions.

In a section labeled “GSK Falsified Its Books and Records to Conceal Its Illegal Marketing Practices in China,” the email explained how Glaxo was pitching drugs for unapproved uses. As an example, the whistle-blower said the drug Lamictal had been aggressively promoted as a treatment for bipolar disorder, even though it had been approved in China only for epilepsy.

Glaxo “almost killed one patient by illegally marketing its drug Lamictal,” said the email, which was obtained by The Times. “GSK China bought the patient’s silence for $9,000.”

Read full story on New York Times.