Italian magistrates probe Astra, other drug firms
MILAN (Reuters) - Magistrates in the southern city of Bari are investigating the Italian businesses of AstraZeneca , Novartis , Bristol-Myers Squibb and Recordati , the drug companies said on Monday.
Judicial sources said magistrates planned to ask for the suspension of activities of the Italian units of eight pharmaceutical firms for an alleged 20 million euro ($24.2 million) fraud over bribing doctors to prescribe their drugs.
The companies said in separate comments that the case involved individual employees rather than entire businesses.
The sources said the eight firms also included GlaxoSmithKline , Biofutura, Bracco and Lusofarmaco. It said Pfizer was not being investigated because it had dismissed the individuals accused of the fraud. These companies were not available for comment.
"The case refers to a specific local investigation relating to individuals," a spokeswoman for Novartis said. "Novartis Italy operates in full respect of the law and regulations."
Italian Recordati said it was being investigated for possible crimes committed by two if its employees and that any such crimes would be a violation of its internal rules. It gave no further details of the probe.
"AstraZeneca SpA is confident that any possible crime by any individual employee is due to a breach of AstraZeneca's procedures and control mechanism by such individuals, and not due its lack of appropriate controls," a spokesman for Anglo-Swiss AstraZeneca said.
Bristol-Myers confirmed the investigation but declined to comment.
At 1432 GMT, shares in Recordati were down 1.4 percent at 5.94 euros, while AstraZeneca had lost 0.4 percent. Novartis and Bristol-Myers each shed about 0.2 percent.
In comparison, the DJ Stoxx European healthcare index <.SXDP> was down 0.2 percent.
Some 126 people have been involved in the investigation, and 104 have been arrested in 2003-2005 and accused of criminal association and public health fraud.
-- additional reporting by Ben Hirschler in London and Tom Armitage in Zurich.
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*Last updated:* 30-Jan-06 15:42 GMT