Several large drug companies – including Merck & Co., AstraZeneca, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and GlaxoSmithKline – have said that they are being investigated for bribing government officials overseas to gain a larger share of business, the Wall Street Journal reports. This would violate a 1977 law that prevents companies whose stock is traded in the U.S. from incentivizing the sale of drugs overseas with financial inducements.
Lanny Breuer, the head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, told drug company executives last year that he would prioritize investigation into foreign bribery in the industry over the next several years. The Wall Street Journal reports that overseas sales have grown to become a significant portion of drug companies’ income, and that these companies may encounter more risk of bribery, given their high level of contact with officials overseas, where the government is more involved in drug purchasing and regulation.
Currently, no companies have been accused, and it is possible that investigations will not result in charges filed. However, given the breadth of the types of violations that are being investigated, some experts believe that some punitive response will likely follow from illegal activities that companies may currently consider “a cost of doing business.”