China detains first U.S. citizen in pharma industry probe

The Chinese pharma crackdown just keeps on widening. Now, a U.S. citizen has been detained in connection with the corruption probe, Reuters reports. And two more AstraZeneca ($AZN) employees have been interviewed after a sales rep was taken in for questioning late last week.

U.S. embassy spokesman Nolan Barkhouse confirmed that a citizen had been taken into custody in China but wouldn't say which company the detainee worked for. "We are aware that a U.S. citizen has been detained in Shanghai. We are in contact with the individual and are providing all appropriate consular assistance," Barkhouse told the news service.

China's latest actions show that the corruption investigation that first erupted with allegations against GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) is continuing to ripple outward to other pharma companies. Belgium's UCB said authorities visited its Chinese offices last week, and that they're doing the same with all foreign drugmakers, Bloomberg says. 

"Momentum is gathering and if you are a big international firm, then you're a good example to be held up," Jeremy Gordon, a risk management expert, told Reuters. "This is a wake-up call for the rest of the industry."

Meanwhile, Sanofi ($SNY), Roche ($RHHBY) and Novartis ($NVS) say they've stopped doing business with the travel agency under fire for its alleged role in the Glaxo scheme. And Merck ($MRK) said it had used the Shanghai Linjiang travel agency in the past, but no longer does, Bloomberg reports. The New York Times reported yesterday that at least 6 multinational drugmakers besides Glaxo had used the agency to set up conferences and events.

There's no word yet whether law enforcement officials are investigating any of the other drugmakers that used the agency's services. Novartis spokesman Eric Althoff told Bloomberg that authorities haven't contacted his company about the matter.

AstraZeneca, meanwhile, says that the questioning of its employees isn't related to the broader probe. "The Public Security Bureau is describing this as an individual case," the company told Reuters. "We have no reason to believe it is related to other investigations."

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