£1.9bn fraud fine for Glaxo in US sparks calls for UK prosecution

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GlaxoSmithKline was last night facing calls to be prosecuted in Britain after the drugmaking giant pleaded guilty to criminal charges and paid a $3bn (£1.9bn) fine to settle what US government officials called the largest case of healthcare fraud in American history.

Brentford-based Glaxo targeted patients under the age of 18 with the antidepressant Paxil when it was only approved for adults, and pushed the drug Wellbutrin for uses for which it was not approved. These included weight loss and treatment of sexual dysfunction, according to an investigation by the US Justice Department.

The pharma giant should be punished in its home country too, according to Paul Flynn, the Labour MP who was Neil Kinnock's health spokesman.

He said: "GlaxoSmithKline has been involved in the same mis-selling here in the UK as has been found in the US. A major British drug company has been found bribing doctors, placing misleading articles in medical journals.

"These are huge offences. There have surely been many avoidable deaths as a result of its actions. We're too permissive of our control of pharmaceutical bodies in the UK. GlaxoSmithKline should be prosecuted here."

US authorities said Glaxo went to huge lengths to promote its drugs, including distributing a misleading medical journal article and providing doctors with meals and spa treatments that were classed as illegal kickbacks. The activities began in the late 1990s, and in some instances continued until 2007. Glaxo's agreement to plead guilty to three criminal counts is highly unusual.

The settlement includes $1bn in criminal fines and $2bn in civil fines. Glaxo chief executive Andrew Witty said the misconduct originated "in a different era for the company". In response to calls for a UK prosecution, the firm said:

A Glaxo spokesman said: "This settlement relates specifically to sales and marketing practices in the US and matters that occurred almost a decade ago. However, we acknowledge and regret what happened and have learnt from our mistakes.

"Since Andrew Witty became CEO in 2008, GSK has made significant changes at all levels within the company to ensure we act with integrity in everything we do, and these matters do not reflect the company that we are today."