Sanofi faces bribery allegations from China whistleblower

Sanofi ($SNY) has joined GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) in facing bribery allegations in China. In the French drugmaker's case, the accusations come from an anonymous whistleblower, rather than official sources, at least so far. According to a Chinese newspaper, the whistleblower says Sanofi paid 1.7 million yuan in bribes to 503 doctors around the country.

The alleged bribes occurred in 2007, the 21st Century Business Herald reported, citing documents handed over by the whistleblower. Sanofi allegedly paid doctors 80 yuan each time a patient bought its products, Agence France-Presse said, citing the Herald. The biggest total payment amounted to 11,200 yuan, or about $1,800.

According to Shanghai Daily, the drugs in question were the high blood pressure treatment Irbesartan and an Irbesartan combo pill. The documents provided to the Herald list actual sales figures for each drug in major hospitals, alongside corresponding kickbacks for each drug, the newspaper said.

In a statement, Sanofi says it's taking the allegations very seriously. "At this time it would be premature to comment on events that may have occurred in 2007," the company said, adding that it has "zero tolerance to any unethical practice."

Last week, Sanofi said government officials had visited one of its regional offices, but that it did not know why.

Glaxo's mounting problems began with whistleblower allegations, which the company investigated and found baseless. Soon after, Chinese law enforcement detained four of the company's top managers in the country. Since then, the government has said Glaxo funneled $489 million to doctors to boost product sales, and at least 18 more domestic employees have been detained

As the allegations against Glaxo have unfolded over the past several weeks, a series of drugmakers have disclosed official visits and requests for information, including Eli Lilly ($LLY) and UCB. Now, the Danish drugmakers Novo Nordisk ($NVO) and Lundbeck have added themselves to that list. Meanwhile, an AstraZeneca ($AZN) sales rep was detained in what the company called a "local police matter."

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