Sanofi says DOJ foreign bribery probe is over but discussions with SEC ongoing

Sanofi says the DOJ has concluded a probe into whether Sanofi bribed doctors in Africa, but the SEC has not. (Wiki Commons)

Sanofi is off the hook with the U.S. Justice Department in a foreign bribery investigation that has been going on for some years, but the company still isn’t entirely in the clear with other U.S. regulators.

The French drugmaker said in its annual report filed this week that the DOJ in February “notified Sanofi that it had decided to close its inquiry into the allegations.” However, the company said, it is still in discussions with the Security and Exchange Commission, which has also been reviewing the allegations.

"“We are pleased with the decision of the DOJ to decline to pursue any action against the Company, as well as the fact that they recognized our close cooperation in their review of the matter," the company said today in an email. "Sanofi takes FCPA matters very seriously and requires that all of its employees act with the integrity and adhere to the highest standards of conduct. Our discussions with the SEC on the same matters are still ongoing and we are working diligently with the SEC to finalize them.”

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Sanofi in 2014 acknowledged U.S. authorities were investigating allegations from an anonymous whistleblower about improper payments from 2007 to 2012 in the Middle East and Africa. Sanofi was accused of giving gifts and perks to doctors in Kenya and in other African countries to persuade them to prescribe its drugs.

The company has been in this spotlight before. It was among companies that looked into accusations of bribery in 2013 after GlaxoSmithKline got caught up it a very public drubbing by Chinese authorities for bribery there. In 2013, a German court convicted two former Sanofi employees of bribery and slapped the French drugmaker with a €28 million ($39 million) fine.

It has been Sanofi peer Novartis that more recently has been caught up in serious bribery allegations in Greece, and investors are not happy about it.The Swiss drugmaker was challenged by shareholders during its annual meeting last week, just days after Greek lawmakers officially opened a bribery investigation into 10 politicians there alleged to have taken bribes from Novartis to buy its meds. One shareholder warned top executives that if they are not more vigilant, corruption will become a "tradition." 

RELATED: Novartis investors demand action amid 'swamp' of bribery allegations in Greece

Chairman Joerg Reinhardt again promised that staffers and managers in Greece will bear the consequences if they behaved illegally or unethically. “If anybody was responsible for any misdeed, we will act accordingly,” Reinhardt said.

But the allegations in Greece are just the latest in a series of scandals that include bribery charges in South Korea and data-tampering in Japan, after which the drugmaker pledged it would bolster its compliance program to avoid bribery and other misbehavior around the world.