Chinese officials to shed some light on Glaxo probe at press briefing

GlaxoSmithKline's corporate headquarters in Brentford, London--Courtesy of GlaxoSmithKline

What lies ahead for GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) in China? The company has been waiting to find out since last summer, when investigators there charged it in a massive bribery scheme. But Glaxo may finally get some answers Wednesday, when Chinese police will brief the media about the drugmaker.

Officials have been investigating the pharma giant since July for allegedly funneling up to $489 million in bribes to doctors and other healthcare providers. China's Ministry of Public Security offered no details on Wednesday's press briefing, Reuters reports, but a Glaxo spokesman confirmed that the company is aware it's coming.

"We take the allegations that have been made extremely seriously and we are continuing to cooperate fully with the Chinese authorities in this investigation," he told the news service in a statement.

Once upon a time, officials in China talked about levying "astronomical" fines on the British company. Later, however, reports said the company would likely escape corruption charges, though some of those local execs--four of whom Chinese police detained last year--probably wouldn't. Glaxo has already admitted that some of its senior Chinese execs appear to have breached the law and promised price cuts in penance.

While GSK also faces the possibility of punishment in its home country and in the U.S., so far its only penalty has been a chill on sales that won't go away. The investigation in China cost Glaxo's emerging markets growth 2% in pharma and vaccines in Q1, with Chinese growth plunging 20% to £137 million ($230 million).

But that could soon be changing, regardless of what Chinese officials have to say on Wednesday. Last month, Glaxo launched probes in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Poland after whistleblowers called the company out on underhanded marketing practices--like hiring government-employed doctors and pharmacists as paid GSK reps and paying top physicians speaking fees for lectures that never took place.

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