Pfizer has agreed to pay the federal government $60 million to settle allegations that its employees bribed doctors and other foreign officials in Europe and Asia to win business and boost sales.
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said Tuesday that Pfizer's overseas subsidiaries made illegal payments to healthcare officials in China, Italy, Russia, Croatia and other Eastern European countries. As early as 2001, Pfizer sales representatives tried to conceal the bribes by recording them as legitimate business expenses for travel, entertainment and marketing purposes, the agency said.
"Pfizer subsidiaries in several countries had bribery so entwined in their sales culture that they offered points and bonus programs to improperly reward foreign officials who proved to be their best customers," said Kara Brockmeyer, chief of SEC's foreign enforcement division.
Pfizer's China operation created a point program that allowed doctors to purchase gifts based on points earned for prescribing Pfizer medications. In other cases, Pfizer would invite high-prescribing doctors to clublike meetings as a reward for choosing Pfizer products.
The settlement includes alleged violations by Wyeth, the New Jersey-based drugmaker which Pfizer acquired in 2009. As part of the action, Pfizer's HCP subsidiary agreed to pay $15 million to resolve similar bribery allegations with the Justice Department. In addition to the settlement fee, the Pfizer unit agreed to a two-year deferred prosecution agreement.