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Glaxo chief: I will not forgo bonus over China bribery claims

GlaxoSmithKline's chief executive, Sir Andrew Witty, yesterday refused to sacrifice this year's bonus over allegations of bribery by the drugs giant's executives in China.

He described such a decision as "a matter for the board".

Sir Andrew accepted a cash and shares bonus worth £1.8m last year, taking his total pay to £4m despite the company paying out $3bn (£2bn) to settle claims that it bribed and tricked US doctors into prescribing antidepressants to children.

That fine was to settle a scandal that took place before his time in the chief executive's position, but the China affair, which also involves allegations that Glaxo employees bribed doctors, happened firmly on his watch.

However, Sir Andrew stressed that it was still early in the investigation, adding: "My bonus is a matter for the board to consider at the right time."

When it was pointed out that he could voluntarily forgo his bonus without the authority of the board, as several banking bosses have done during the financial crisis, he said: "I am disappointed about the allegations but we are at a very early stage of this investigation."

Meanwhile, it emerged that the company had contacted the Serious Fraud Office in the UK and the US Department of Justice over the China allegations. Both countries have strict rules on overseas corruption, such as those enshrined in Britain's Bribery Act.

Sir Andrew has said that if the allegations proved to be true, it would appear that a number of senior managers had been acting outside Glaxo's "processes", and talked of his disappointment at his staff's behaviour.

"The alleged activities are not what we expect from our people… We have zero tolerance in this area."

He added: "At this stage there is still a lot to find out, but we will learn from this and make changes."

Sir Andrew said the company remained committed to the Chinese market, where it had a "long history and large footprint". He singled out hepatitis B, respiratory illness and diabetes as diseases in the country where Glaxo had major drugs to offer.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the allegations emerged, he said Glaxo had launched a review of its business practices and did expect the scandal to have a financial impact.

He added: "I remain strongly of the view that 99.99 per cent of the people in this organisation are absolutely operating in the appropriate way."