Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline has launched an investigation into allegations of corruption in Iraq just months after becoming embroiled in a major bribery scandal in China.
The UK-based company said it was investigating claims that it hired 16 state-employed doctors and pharmacists as paid sales representatives while they continued to work for the government.
Emails from a whistleblower to Glaxo reportedly also said it paid for doctors to attend international conferences and for a workshop in Lebanon for officials after Glaxo had won a drugs contract with Iraq’s health ministry.
Details of the allegations, dating back to 2012, were sent to the company late last year and earlier this year, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The whistleblower, described as a person familiar with Glaxo’s Middle East operations, reportedly believed the practices violate US and UK anti-corruption laws.
A Glaxo spokesman said: “We are investigating allegations of improper conduct in our Iraq business. We have zero tolerance for unethical or illegal behaviour.
“In total, we employ fewer than 60 people in Iraq in our pharmaceuticals operation and these allegations relate to a small number of individuals in the country.
“However, we are investigating whether there has been any improper conduct and these investigations are ongoing.”
The spokesman said Glaxo was continuing to make “fundamental reforms” to its sales and marketing practices, changing how sales representatives are paid and stopping the practice of paying doctors to speak on its behalf.
It emerged last summer that Chinese authorities were investigating bribery by its staff – which allegedly saw as much as £324m (€391.59) funnelled through travel agencies and consultancies to doctors and health officials to boost sales and raise prices.
Chief executive Sir Andrew Witty has previously labelled the scandal “shameful” and has been battling to repair the group’s tarnished image, with sales in China plunging.
Glaxo has informed the UK’s Serious Fraud Office as well as the US Department of Justice and the US Securities and Exchange Commission about the Chinese inquiry.