AstraZeneca reveals insurance fraud probe in China as officials say they've made criminal arrests

China’s healthcare fund watchdog is taking AstraZeneca to task over alleged fraud.

AstraZeneca China last month met with government officials as part of an investigation into alleged insurance fraud, the company said Friday. The probe—and subsequent arrests—hinge on suspicions that AZ China staff members tampered with genetic testing results of cancer patients in order to defraud medical insurance funds, China's National Healthcare Security Administration (NHSA) said in its release.

In its own statement, AstraZeneca said that last August, an internal probe found that a "small number of employees in Shenzhen had tampered with or participated in tampering with patient test reports,” according to a translation. Those employees were “suspected of defrauding medical insurance funds," the company added.

AZ says it took “serious action” against the employees involved and “took the initiative” to report the situation to the local medical insurance department “as soon as possible.”

As of Saturday, “all criminal suspects have been arrested,” China’s NHSA announced, according to a translation. The officials did not specify the arrest charges.

The joint meeting between AstraZeneca China, NHSA and the country’s Ministry of Public Security took plac Dec. 27, AstraZeneca said.

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As part of the episode, officials have asked AstraZeneca to further investigate the allegations, provide education on the law for employees and “plug loopholes in marketing supervision,” NHSA said Saturday.

“The company will continue to carry out targeted internal self-examination and self-correction actions to prevent any suspected violations of laws and disciplines such as insurance fraud,” AZ said in its release. At the same time, the company has pledged to bolster compliance culture and training, self-inspection frameworks and business supervision.

Next up, NHSA and the Ministry of Public Security will launch a nationwide campaign against fraud involving genetic testing results. It urged guilty parties to surrender themselves to local medical insurance and public security departments.

This isn't the first imbroglio for an English drugmaker in China. Just look at GlaxoSmithKline. Back in 2014, AZ’s British compatriot was hit with a $489 million fine for paying bribes to doctors to use its drugs. A Chinese court also handed suspended jail sentences to the former head of GSK China, plus four other GSK executives, of between two and four years, Reuters reported at the time, citing state news agency Xinhua.