Pfizer hit with $60m bribery bill

Pfizer, the US pharmaceuticals giant, is set to pay more than $60m (£38m) to settle charges that gifts and payments it paid to doctors in Europe amount to bribes under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA).

The settlement signals the US authorities' intention to widen the scope of the country's tough anti-bribery law, which has been on the books since 1977.

Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson paid $70m to settle claims that it paid doctors in Greece, Romania and Poland in return for the doctors' agreeing to use its surgical implants in hospital procedures.

Doctors working for state-run health services are being viewed as "foreign officials" by Department of Justice investigators and by the Securities and Exchange Commission, the US financial regulator, which is conducting parallel investigations into the industry.

The British drugs giants GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca have both revealed that they are under investigation in the US for suspected breaches of the FCPA.

Pfizer says it has reached an agreement in principle to settle the charges against it, which relate to "potentially improper payments" made by its subsidiaries and divisions within Wyeth, which Pfizer acquired in 2009. Talks are continuing on the details of the settlement, and it is not clear whether the company will admit wrongdoing. Johnson & Johnson neither admitted nor denied the charges against it.

The pharmaceuticals industry has repeatedly tightened codes of conduct relating to gifts and payments to doctors, in response to a string of scandals and negative publicity over the past decade.

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