Money Talks

As St. Paul reminds us in his first letter to Timothy: “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Indeed. And none are more sorrowful, perhaps, than the eleven doctors and a GlaxoSmithKline regional manager who are facing bribery charges in Poland for offences taking place between 2010 and 2012.

In a case which was first reported on the BBC’s Panorama programme, it is alleged that by a former GSK sales representative from Lodz that doctors were paid to give speeches and then expected to increase the number of prescriptions for GSK drugs that they wrote, particularly the asthma drug Seretide. “Although on paper the payments were for educational services, the doctors understood very clearly that they must produce a certain number of prescriptions in return”, he said. Poland’s Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) confirmed this week that thirteen people had been charged in connection with the allegations. If the allegations are proved, GSK may have managed to breach both the UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act under which it is illegal for companies based in either country to bribe government employees abroad. One doctor has already admitted guilt, has been fined and given a suspended sentence. He said he did accept £100 for a single lecture which he never gave, but only under pressure from a GSK drugs rep. He told Panorama: “They kept tempting, and I am just a man.” Quite. Oscar Wilde may have said that he could resist anything except temptation but it did not end particularly well for him either.

Interestingly, or depressingly – you choose, this report comes hot in the heels of the US Justice Department’s announcing that Hewlett-Packard will have to pay criminal penalties of over $76 million after it created a complex web of deceit in order to secure contracts in Poland, Mexico and Russia. Hewlett-Packard has admitted that its Polish subsidiary “acted corruptly” while bidding to win IT equipment tenders in Poland. “The complexity of these schemes was disturbing,” said US Deputy Assistant Attorney General Swartz “Hewlett-Packard subsidiaries created a slush fund for bribe payments, set up an intricate web of shell companies and bank accounts to launder money, employed two sets of books to track bribe recipients, and used anonymous email accounts and prepaid mobile telephones to arrange covert meetings to hand over bags of cash,” he added.

However, it is not all bad. The US Government expressed deep appreciation for the significant partnership with the CBA which worked closely with FBI. The CBA’s investigation concerning allegations of corruption in state tenders for IT equipment began in 2011. Since then, 38 people have been charged, including a former deputy minister of the interior, a former deputy head of Poland’s Central Statistical Office (GUS), officials at the foreign ministry and businessmen. Polish interior minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz told Polish Radio that this was a break through moment for Poland. He praised the CBA’s investigation. Not only had a large international company admitted acting corruptly in Poland but the probe “shifts Poland from Eastern Europe to the West” in terms of fighting against corruption.

And he is correct. As I wrote in here in The Bribe, corruption is not a victimless crime: it sucks the lifeblood from the economy, harms legitimate business and leads to decisions being made on the basis of not what is the best solution to the problem but who has the largest wallet to pay bribes. Money talks but, it is to be hoped, in Poland at least, to a smaller audience now that the CBA is listening.

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