UPDATED: Novartis South Korea office target of bribery probe

South Korean authorities raided the offices of Novartis ($NVS) in Seoul looking for evidence that the drugmaker may have bribed doctors in the country to recommend and prescribe its products over the competition.

A report by STAT said legal authorities took possession of documents, account books and other records to see if bribes had been paid. Novartis confirmed in the report that its offices had been "visited" by authorities, but that "the investigation is ongoing and we cannot comment further at this time."

A Novartis spokesperson from the company's headquarters in Basel, Switzerland, also confirmed to FiercePharmaAsia by email that "the offices of Novartis in Korea were visited by local authorities in relation to an investigation. The investigation is ongoing and we cannot comment further at this time."

The STAT report said the Novartis probe is sure to be watched by other drugmakers looking for signs that authorities are taking a harsher look at the sales and marketing tactics used by drugmakers.

GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) was caught up in a similar probe in China and was convicted of paying bribes to doctors there and forced to pay a $490 million fine. The company said it has changed the way it does business in China and no longer markets directly to doctors.

U.S. officials are also said to be looking at drugmakers for possible violations of the country's Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, according to the report, which also outlined a number of recent actions against drugmakers. These include a $12.8 million fine paid by SciClone ($SCLN) to the SEC, $29 million paid by Eli Lilly ($LLY) and $15 million paid by Pfizer ($PFE) over bribery allegations in China, Italy, Russia and other locales.

- here's the report from STAT