Pfizer faces whistleblower lawsuit from former compliance manager who says he flagged possible fraud in China

After Pfizer allegedly fired a compliance manager for raising the flag on potential fraud activity in China, the former employee is hitting back.

Frank Han, the former director of global compliance analytics at Pfizer, has filed a civil complaint against the drugmaker. In the California lawsuit, Han claims he was terminated for identifying potential Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) issues within the company.

Han worked for Pfizer from May 2017 to November 2022, according to the court documents.

Back in 2021, Han says he discovered that Pfizer had spent “over ten times the amount of money” on potentially influential government officials (PIGOs) in China than the company had spent on those officials in other countries, the court documents state.

Specifically, Pfizer spent $168 million on PIGOs in China between the second quarter of 2019 and the third quarter of 2021, Han's work found. That compared to $12 million in the U.S., $11 million in Canada, $7.5 million in Russia and $7.1 million in the U.K.

Even after Han brought the data to his supervisors, he claims he saw no evidence that Pfizer struck up a company investigation.

Instead, Han said he was rated lower on a subsequent employee performance review, with his supervisor “baselessly critiquing his work, berating him, and impeding his ability to perform his job," the lawsuit claims.

After Han’s supervisor allegedly screamed at him, it became clear to Han that Pfizer's “statements and actions were in retaliation to his complaints about the fraudulent activity he had uncovered,” the lawsuit says.

By May 2022, Han says he had received several negative performance reviews. Come Aug. 3 of last year, Han received a “Final Notice of Underperformance” from the company, he says.

He was ultimately fired Nov. 4, 2022.

Pfizer did not immediately provide a comment on the lawsuit, which was filed earlier this summer in the Superior Court of the State of California for the County of San Francisco. More recently, the case was moved to California federal court.

This isn’t Pfizer’s first run-in with potential fraud activity abroad. In 2012, the company inked a $60 million FCPA settlement centered around its alleged conduct in Bulgaria, Croatia, Russia and several other countries.

Pfizer additionally disclosed more FCPA scrutiny in 2019 and 2020.

And, in its most recent annual securities filing (PDF), Pfizer said it was under investigation for potential FCPA violations in Russia and China.