Chinese police pick up AstraZeneca sales rep for questioning

Now, China is putting the heat on AstraZeneca. Police visited the company's operations in Huangpu Friday and took a sales rep away for questioning, Reuters reports.

Whether the move against AstraZeneca ($AZN) is part of China's new crackdown on corruption in the pharma industry isn't clear. In a statement, the company said the visit was part of a "local police matter" and tried to distance itself from the fast-moving GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) bribery scandal. But as The New York Times reports, Big Pharma should expect Chinese police to come knocking in the near future.

The newspaper obtained documents showing that the Shanghai Linjiang International Travel Agency, which allegedly helped Glaxo funnel kickbacks to doctors, worked with at least a half-dozen other multinational drugmakers, including Merck ($MRK), Novartis ($NVS) and Sanofi ($SNY). The agency arranged events and conferences for the pharma companies, just as it did for Glaxo, the NYT said. The documents "contain no indication of wrongdoing," the newspaper said, but indicate that Chinese officials could be interested in probing these companies further.

AstraZeneca wasn't among the companies named in the NYT article. "We believe that this investigation relates to an individual case and while we have not yet received an update from the PSB [Public Security Bureau], we have no reason to believe it's related to any other investigations," AZ said in a statement.

AstraZeneca went on to emphasize its intolerance for "any illegal or unethical conduct in our business activities" and said its Chinese employees and contractors "are required to strictly comply with these guidelines in the conduct of business."

Glaxo thought the same thing; its emerging markets chief Abbas Hussain said as much in a statement over the weekend: "Certain senior executives of GSK China, who know our systems well, appear to have acted outside of our processes and controls, which breaches Chinese law."

That's not to say that AstraZeneca's people disregarded their own rules. But the existence of rules doesn't mean they can't be broken.

- see the NYT story
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