Days after AstraZeneca disclosed that it’s under Justice Department scrutiny for allegedly funding Iraqi terrorism, Johnson & Johnson and Roche also revealed similar inquiries from the agency.
Federal prosecutors got in touch with the companies after a veterans' lawsuit accused them of bribing Iraqi health officials. J&J disclosed that lawsuit in a securities filing last year, and this week stated that the feds had started their own investigation. “Also, the company has received an inquiry from the United States Department of Justice regarding the matters set out in the complaint,” J&J said in its second-quarter SEC filing.
Separately, a Roche spokeswoman confirmed to FiercePharma that the Swiss drugmaker “has received an inquiry from and is cooperating with the Department of Justice on this matter.”
The initial lawsuit was brought last October by more than 100 U.S. veterans and their families. They allege that to win favorable pharmaceutical and medical device contracts in Iraq, J&J, Roche, AstraZeneca, GE Healthcare and Pfizer made bribes to the terrorists who openly controlled the Iraqi Ministry of Health.
Pfizer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment and hasn’t filed its quarterly document to the Securities and Exchange Commission. But at the time the lawsuit was first filed, a Pfizer spokesperson said the company “categorically denies any wrongdoing.”
General Electric—currently in the process of separating GE Healthcare into a standalone company so that it can focus on power, energy and aviation businesses—didn’t mention any similar DOJ probe in its second-quarter regulatory filing.
Johnson & Johnson and GE didn’t reply to FiercePharma inquiries by publication time.
An AZ spokesperson on Tuesday told FiercePharma the company has a “robust and dynamic compliance program, and we refuse to tolerate bribery or any other form of corruption.”
The veterans' lawsuit—based on evidence drawn from 12 confidential witnesses, as well as public and private documents—claims that the briberies began under Saddam Hussein’s regime, whose Ministry of Health relied on a corrupt procurement process that opened the door to such illicit payments.
According to the complaint, the pattern of payments continued after Saddam’s government collapsed and the ministry passed under the control of a Shiite terrorist group. One alleged payment scheme, according to the plaintiffs, involved providing ministry officials with drugs and medical equipment free of charge so they could resell them on the black market.