The SEC settled charges against Pfizer Inc. for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). As alleged, its subsidiaries bribed doctors and other health care professionals employed by foreign governments in order to win business.
The SEC alleged that employees and agents of Pfizer’s subsidiaries in Bulgaria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Italy, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Serbia made improper payments to foreign officials to obtain regulatory and formulary approvals, sales, and increased prescriptions for the company’s pharmaceutical products. They tried to conceal the bribery by improperly recording the transactions in accounting records as legitimate expenses for promotional activities, marketing, training, travel and entertainment, clinical trials, freight, conferences, and advertising. The SEC separately charged another pharmaceutical company that Pfizer acquired in 2009, Wyeth LLC, with additional FCPA violations.
Pfizer and Wyeth agreed to separate settlements in which they will pay more than $45 million combined to settle their respective charges. In a parallel action, the Department of Justice announced that Pfizer H.C.P. Corporation agreed to pay a $15 million penalty to resolve its investigation of FCPA violations.
“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 the SEC Enforcement Division’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Unit. “These charges illustrate the pitfalls that exist for companies that fail to appropriately monitor potential risks in their global operations.”
According to the SEC’s complaint against Pfizer filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the misconduct dates back as far as 2001. Employees of Pfizer’s subsidiaries allegedly authorized and made cash payments and provided other incentives to bribe government doctors to utilize Pfizer products. According to the SEC’s complaint, Pfizer made an initial voluntary disclosure of misconduct by its subsidiaries to the SEC and Department of Justice in October 2004, and fully cooperated with SEC investigators. Pfizer took such extensive remedial actions as undertaking a comprehensive worldwide review of its compliance program. The SEC further alleged that Wyeth subsidiaries engaged in FCPA violations primarily before but also after the company’s acquisition by Pfizer in late 2009.
In settling the SEC’s charges, Wyeth neither admitted nor denied the allegations. Pfizer consented to the entry of a final judgment ordering it to pay disgorgement of $16,032,676 in net profits and prejudgment interest of $10,307,268 for a total of $26,339,944. Wyeth also is required to report to the SEC on the status of its remediation and implementation of compliance measures over a two-year period, and is permanently enjoined from further violations of Exchange Act Sections 13(b)(2)(A) and 13(b)(2)(B). Wyeth consented to the entry of a final judgment ordering it to pay disgorgement of $17,217,831 in net profits and prejudgment interest of $1,658,793, for a total of $18,876,624. As a Pfizer subsidiary, the status of Wyeth’s remediation and implementation of compliance measures will be subsumed in Pfizer’s two-year self-reporting period. Wyeth also is permanently enjoined from further violations of Exchange Act Sections 13(b)(2)(A) and 13(b)(2)(B). The settlements are subject to court approval.