German prosecutors said yesterday that they suspected the British drugs company GlaxoSmithKline of paying bribes and perks to about 4,000 doctors. Hospital doctors had been given cash sums ranging from €50 to €25,000 (£30 to £15,500) as well as Formula One and 1998 World Cup tickets in France, prosecutors said.
Manfred Wick, Munich's chief prosecutor, said the payments made by Glaxo, which has since merged with SmithKline Beecham, had led to suspicions of bribery and tax evasion.
Mr Wick said a majority of individual cases had been dropped because of the small sums involved. But 100 cases against German doctors and 380 involving SmithKline employees were still being pursued.
The drugs firm, which became Europe's biggest through the merger in 2000, said it was co-operating fully with the German inquiry. It said the accusations related mainly to the period from 1997 to 1999. Since then the company has been restructured.
The allegations, on the same day that its chairman, Sir Richard Sykes, announced he was to step down after a nine-year tenure, mark the latest bad news for the company in the past fortnight.
A survey, by Labour Research, showed that Sir Richard would probably receive a pension payout of £657,000 a year, while staff joining the company could no longer join the group's final salary pension scheme. News of his resignation did not affect the company's share price, which was up 0.1 per cent to £17.20 during afternoon trading on the Stock Exchange.
The company said last night that it had previously offered the principal prosecutor in Munich "active support". In a statement, the company said: "GlaxoSmithKline places tremendous worth on an uncompromising explanation of the course of events.
"According to what we have already discovered, the accusations encompass the time period of 1997 to 1999. The company has been newly restructured through the merger of Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKlineBeecham and many positions have been newly defined and filled; responsibilities have changed."