Teva, already facing $500M-plus penalties for bribery, probes claims it paid off docs in Romania

Teva said it's investigating allegations from a tipster that its employees bribed doctors in Romania.

Last month, Teva—trying to wipe the slate clean of alleged bribery in Russia, Mexico and Ukraine—put aside more than half a billion dollars to cover anticipated settlements with U.S. authorities. But the company is probing another set of claims, too, this time in Romania.

The Israeli drugmaker is investigating allegations from an anonymous tipster that its employees bribed Romanian state healthcare workers—with speaking and consulting fees, as well as covered international travel expenses—to prescribe the company’s medications, a spokeswoman told Reuters. Teva launched the internal probe in 2015, and it’s still ongoing, she said.

The bribery allegedly centered on Teva’s multiple sclerosis star, Copaxone, and getting healthcare providers to recommend the med to “as many patients as possible,” according to the tipster’s email, which the news service reviewed. To pass off the speaking payments as legitimate, Teva provided one doctor a short, pre-written PowerPoint presentation to read at healthcare provider meetings, the tipster said.

The tipster sent the allegations in a series of emails to Teva CEO Erez Vigodman, as well as the company’s audit committee and compliance staff, between October 2015 and last month, which prompted the Petah Tikva-based drugmaker to launch the internal probe, Reuters said.

Teva has found itself in the hot seat over international bribery claims before. In November 2013, it acknowledged that its own investigations had turned up suspect practices in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Russia. It said it may have violated the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), as well as local laws.

And last month, alongside its Q3 earnings, Teva revealed that it was earmarking $520 million to settle investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission into FCPA violations that occurred between 2007 and 2013 in Russia, Mexico and Ukraine.

Teva’s not the only drugmaker to find itself in that position, though, even when it comes to Romania in particular. Last July, GlaxoSmithKline—which has seen recent allegations crop up in countries from Yemen to Poland to China—said it was looking into claims of improper payments in Romania, which a whistleblower had detailed in an email to the company’s top brass.

Later that month, Romanian authorities told Reuters they were investigating 11 companies for suspected bribery in the country, and Roche acknowledged it was among those that had been paid a visit.