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.

RELATED: Novartis to pay $50M, lose some drug coverage in Korean bribery probe

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.

RELATED: Novartis, slammed by Korean scandal, tweaks its ethics, compliance policies

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.