Another 18 GlaxoSmithKline employees have been detained by Chinese authorities as a major criminal investigation into alleged corruption widens.
The British drugs giant is embroiled in a scandal which allegedly saw millions of euro in bribes paid to Chinese doctors and health officials to boost sales and raise prices.
Chinese state media said police have detained more GSK employees after four of the company’s senior executives were arrested in relation to the claims earlier this month.
A report also claimed that the group faced similar allegations from a whistleblower as early as January, although the group has said it only became aware of the specific problems identified by Chinese police two weeks ago.
The Sunday Telegraph said an email from an anonymous whistleblower was sent to the GSK board, auditors and the Serious Fraud Office in January, detailing similar claims to those now being investigated by Chinese police.
The email alleged money was transferred into “almost every” new GSK sales employee’s personal bank account to pay cash bribes to doctors to prescribe drugs.
GSK yesterday said it “thoroughly investigated” the whistleblower’s allegations earlier this year.
A spokesman said: “These investigations did not support the specific allegations being made by the whistleblower.
“We understand that the allegations made by the Chinese authorities in the ongoing investigation are different and separate to the whistleblower’s particular allegations.”
GSK boss Andrew Witty last week described the recent corruption allegations as “shameful” and “deeply disappointing”. But he sought to blame a handful of senior managers for the scandal, saying bosses at the pharmaceuticals company’s London headquarters knew nothing of the alleged bribery.
He said: “Just as we see in all large organisations, unfortunately there is a risk that individuals can sometimes do inappropriate things.
“I remain strongly of the view that 99.99% of the people in this organisation are absolutely operating in the appropriate way and understand not just the rules but the values the company stands by.”
Mr Witty admitted the scandal will have an impact on the company’s performance in China.
It is claimed senior managers at GSK funnelled money through travel agencies for “conference services”, with cash then kicked back to the managers and some of it used for bribes.
Mr Witty said: “It appears that certain senior executives in the China business have acted outside our processes and controls to both defraud the company and the Chinese health care system.
“To see these allegations about people working for GSK is shameful. For me personally they are deeply disappointing.”
GSK has said it is co-operating fully with Chinese authorities, and has hired an international law firm to conduct an independent review into what went wrong in China.