Amid FCPA probe, AZ indicted in Serbia for bribery

AstraZeneca ($AZN) has disclosed it was indicted in Serbia for alleged bribery. If the U.S. government wasn't so focused on bribery these days, this disclosure might not seem so serious. However, for some time now, the feds have been investigating the entire pharma industry--including AstraZeneca--for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

So, the Serbian indictment could send U.S. investigators galloping in that direction, if they haven't been there already. Serbian officials are alleging local employees of the drugmaker "made allegedly improper payments to physicians" at the Institute of Oncology and Radiology of Serbia, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The company says it has moved for dismissal of the charges. "We intend to vigorously defend the matter and have filed a number of pending preliminary procedural objections that ask the Serbian criminal court to dismiss the indictment," spokesman Tony Jewell told the newspaper. "This case is still in preliminary stages, so we are not in a position, at this time to comment further or to predict the outcome."

In many countries with publicly funded health systems, physicians are government employees--something that presents a problem for drugmakers. Even typical doctor-pharma interactions could be construed as "improper." Whether the alleged Serbian payments qualify as typical isn't clear at this point; the Institute's director was arrested last year in an alleged bribery scheme that involved preferred treatment in cancer-drug purchasing, the WSJ points out. 

A business unit manager in AstraZeneca's Belgrade office was also arrested at the time, along with several others, the Journal reports.

- get the WSJ story