Pfizer Inc. is penalised by SEC for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Its subsidiaries bribed doctors and other health care professionals employed by foreign governments in order to win business.
The SEC alleges that employees and agents of Pfizer’s subsidiaries in Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Serbia made improper payments to foreign officials to obtain regulatory and formulary approvals, sales, and increased prescriptions for the company’s pharmaceutical products. They tried to conceal the bribery by improperly recording the transactions in accounting records as legitimate expenses for promotional activities, marketing, training, travel and entertainment, clinical trials, freight, conferences, and advertising.
The SEC filed a separate settled enforcement action in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against another pharmaceutical company that Pfizer acquired a few years ago – Wyeth LLC – for its own FCPA violations. Pfizer and Wyeth agreed to separate settlements in which they will pay approximately $45 million combined in disgorgement and prejudgment interest to the SEC to settle their respective charges. In a related action, Pfizer H.C.P. Corporation, an indirect wholly owned subsidiary of Pfizer, will pay a $15 million penalty to settle FCPA charges brought against it today by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) under a deferred prosecution agreement.
The SEC’s complaint against Pfizer alleges that Pfizer’s misconduct dates back as far as 2001. According to the SEC’s complaint, employees of Pfizer’s subsidiaries authorized and made cash payments and provided other incentives to bribe government doctors to utilize Pfizer products. In China, for example, the SEC’s complaint alleges that Pfizer employees invited “high-prescribing doctors” in the Chinese government to club-like meetings that included extensive recreational and entertainment activities to reward doctors’ past product sales or prescriptions. In addition, according to the SEC’s complaint, Pfizer employees in Croatia created a “bonus program” for Croatian doctors who were employed in senior positions in Croatian government health care institutions. According to the SEC’s complaint, once a doctor agreed to use Pfizer products, a percentage of the value purchased by a doctor’s institution would be funneled back to the doctor in the form of cash, international travel, or free products.
According to the SEC’s complaint, Pfizer made an initial voluntary disclosure of misconduct by its subsidiaries to the SEC and Department of Justice in October 2004, and fully cooperated with SEC investigators. The complaint alleges that Pfizer took such extensive remedial actions as undertaking a comprehensive worldwide review of its compliance program.
The SEC further alleges that Wyeth subsidiaries engaged in FCPA violations, primarily before, but also after, the company’s acquisition by Pfizer in late 2009. For example, according to the SEC’s complaint, starting at least in 2005, subsidiaries marketing Wyeth nutritional products in China, Indonesia, and Pakistan bribed government doctors to recommend their products to patients by making cash payments or in some cases providing BlackBerrys and cell phones or travel incentives. The complaint alleges that Wyeth’s employees often used fictitious invoices to conceal the true nature of the payments.
According to the SEC’s complaint, following Pfizer’s acquisition of Wyeth, Pfizer undertook a risk-based FCPA due diligence review of Wyeth’s global operations and voluntarily reported the findings to the SEC staff. The complaint alleges that Pfizer diligently and promptly integrated Wyeth’s legacy operations into its compliance program and cooperated fully with SEC investigators.