Employees of multinational drug firms like AstraZeneca and UCB have been questioned by Chinese authorities, state media said on Wednesday, indicating that the scope of the ongoing probe of bribery against GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) was being widened.
A commentary published in state-run Xinhua news agency on Wednesday said it has been reported that more than 1,000 doctors, nurses and administrators from 73 hospitals in Zhangzhou city, southeastern province of Fujian, were found taking briberies and kickbacks.
"The Health Ministry has said that 39 employees at a hospital in the southern Guangdong Province would be punished for taking illegal kickbacks, totaling 2.82 million yuan (around $460,000)," the commentary said.
Top government ministries and agencies like the Public Security Ministry, National Development and Reform Commission, State Administration for Industry and Commerce and the Health Ministry were all being roped in to join the investigations.
Local employees of AstraZeneca, also British, have been questioned and Belgian pharma company, UCB is also on the radar.
"One thing is clear, the chaos of medicine trade should not, by any means, be an excuse for multinationals to resort to bribery, price-fixing and other malpractice. Multinationals have branches all over the world, and they are very clear of its due social responsibilities. Unfortunately, some of them have been making full use of loopholes of law enforcement in the developing world including China," it said.
British drug-maker GSK has been accused of funneling up to 3 billion Yuan (around 489 million US dollars) to travel agencies to facilitate bribes to doctors and officials.
"No wonder the company itself has called the bribery accusations 'shameful'," Xinhua said.
China has some 13,500 public hospitals, it is said that corruption is partly being fuelled by low compensation packages for doctors and para-medical staff.
"Nowadays, corruption and malpractice in the pharmaceutical industry have become one of the top complaints of the Chinese people," the commentary said, adding, "As a result, the government is taking various efforts to tackle the thorny issues. It will not be surprising if more pharmaceutical companies and hospitals, domestic or international, are to be involved in probes in the days to come."