Korea issues third set of punishments in Novartis bribery case

Antitrust authorities in Korea issued a new fine against Novartis. (Courtesy of Valentin Janiaut)

South Korean authorities aren’t letting Novartis off the hook easily in an ongoing bribery controversy. After a separate agency fined the drugmaker nearly $50 million over kickback payments in April, antitrust authorities in the country have just issued a new fine and complaint against the Swiss drug giant.

South Korea’s Fair Trade Commission fined Novartis 500 million won ($445,000) and filed a new complaint over payments the company offered doctors between March 2011 and August 2016, according to the Korea Times.

The developments come shortly after the country’s Ministry of Health & Welfare fined Novartis 55 billion Korean won—approximately $50 million—and suspended reimbursement of Exelon and Zometa for three months, alleging the company’s employees provided approximately $2.3 million in unlawful kickbacks.

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Even before that finding, the country’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety issued a small fine and a three-month suspension on three medications earlier this year.

A Novartis spokesperson said the company acknowledges the new decision, adding that it’s based on a prosecutor’s request from an 2016 investigation.

Novartis, in its own internal probe, “found that some overseas congress trips by healthcare professionals were funded in a way that did not fully comply with industry self-regulation standards,” according to a company statement.

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In response, the drugmaker “has taken decisive actions to address this issue in Korea, including stopping the funding of healthcare professionals from Korea to attend overseas academic conferences and meetings,” according to a company statement.

The scandal in Korea has been a thorn in Novartis’ side for some time after prosecutors raided a company office there early last year. It’s facing a parallel controversy in Greece, where a justice official recently said “thousands” of doctors and government employees have been “directly bribed from Switzerland.” No charges have been filed in that case.

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So with problems popping up in multiple countries, Novartis chief compliance and ethics officer Shannon Klinger recently said the company is strengthening and simplifying its global ethics and compliance approach.