AstraZeneca today coughed up $5.5 million (£4.2 million) to settle a highly embarrassing foreign bribery probe, amid claims that the British pharma giant faked conferences and offered gifts to local doctors in Russia and China who bought its drugs. Britain’s number two drugmaker — one of the biggest international pharma firms in China, with 45,000 staff — falsely recorded improper payments in China and Russia as bona fide business expenses, the US Securities and Exchange Commission said. Some bribery allegations go back as far as 2005, with AstraZeneca said to have made “improper payments of gifts, conference support, travel, cash and other benefits” mainly to Chinese and Russian state medical workers “to reward or influence” their purchases of its drugs. The SEC claims AstraZeneca set up bank accounts in doctors’ names, hired a “collusive travel vendor” who submitted fake or inflated invoices to generate cash to funnel money, and “totally fabricated” conferences to pay out speaker fees despite there being “no meeting date, venue, [nor] subject”.
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