What if doctor dinners were illegal?

Thanks to federal probes, the same sort of wining-and-dining that has come under fire at home could lead to prosecutions abroad, the Financial Times reports, citing sources close to the investigations.

Merck just disclosed that it's a target of Justice Department and Securities & Exchange Commission inquiries into potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, but it's not the only Big Pharma the feds have called on. Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline, AstraZeneca, Eli Lilly, Baxter and Bristol-Myers Squibb are included, making the inquiries a who's who in the industry.

Drugmakers in overseas markets deal every day with doctors, hospital administrators and regulators that are considered government officials, because they're employed by state-run health systems. So what in the U.S. is seen as simple hospitality--and other common doctor-drugmaker relationships such as consulting and research--could be considered bribes in foreign countries, the FT notes.

Nice dinners and conference junkets and so on may raise eyebrows in the U.S.--and prompt calls for disclosure, even legislation--but they're not illegal. And to be fair, it's not clear that the DoJ or SEC will end up deciding that they're illegal overseas, either.

- read the FT piece