SEC ropes Teva into pharma bribery probe

Has Teva Pharmaceutical Industries ($TEVA) been paying la mordida in Latin America? The U.S. government wants to know. The Securities and Exchange Commission issued a subpoena to the Israeli company, asking for documents from its operations south of the border, as part of a long-standing government bribery probe.

Teva is just the latest drugmaker to be drawn into the big Foreign Corrupt Practices Act crackdown. The Justice Department and SEC have been probing Big Pharma companies, seeking to root out bribes to foreign government officials. Besides the usual bribery concerns, drugmakers have to worry about payments and gifts to doctors, who may be considered government officials under the FCPA.

Pfizer ($PFE), for instance, turned itself in after it found evidence of "improper payments" in its overseas operations. As The Wall Street Journal reports, the company is expected to pay at least $60 million to resolve FCPA probes. And Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) has already agreed to pay $70 million to wrap up allegations that it bribed doctors in Greece, Poland and Romania.

Other Big Pharma companies that have disclosed FCPA investigations include GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK), Baxter ($BAX), Eli Lilly ($LLY), Bristol-Myers Squibb ($BMY), AstraZeneca ($AZN) and Merck ($MRK). Reuters says at least 8 of the 10 biggest drugmakers have been contacted by government investigators.

Teva says it's conducting its own investigation, too. In disclosing the subpoena in a recent SEC filing, Teva said it has hired outside counsel to run the internal probe into "certain business practices which may have FCPA implications."

- see the WSJ piece
- get more from Reuters