More than 1,800 German doctors and medical employees have come under suspicion for overbilling and accepting kickbacks from American and Italian medical equipment vendors, prosecutors have said.
The vendors include St. Jude Medical of Little Canada, Minn., and Medtronic of Fridley, Minn.
The Wuppertal, Germany, prosecutor's office, which led the two-year probe, said suspects at 418 German hospitals allegedly took bribes worth at least $22 million from 1990 to 1994.
In return, the doctors allegedly billed the national health insurance system inflated prices for artificial heart valves, pacemakers and other equipment and channeled the proceeds back to the three suppliers.
German health insurers said the alleged scheme apparently bilked them of more than $66 million.
All suspects and the German branches of three medical equipment firms-St. Jude, Medtronic and Sorin Biomedica of Saluggia, Italy-are expected to face fraud and corruption charges, the prosecutor's office said.
Medtronic spokesman Dick Reid said his company was aware of the case and has been working with German prosecutors, but that he could say little else because no concrete accusations had been made. He said it was possible some of Medtronic's efforts to educate doctors about its products had been misconstrued.
St. Jude spokesman Peter Gove said his company also was cooperating with prosecutors and waiting to learn more about the specific allegations.
"Until such time as we see the specifics of that and how it may affect our company...it's very difficult to comment," Gove said.
Medtronic and St. Jude both manufacture heart pacemakers and heart valves.