Monday, May 18, 2009

Novo Nordisk Accepts Deferred Prosecution Agreement, Settles, Pays Fine

Back in early 2007, we noted that several large drug companies were under investigation for possible involvement in the Iraq oil-for-food sanctions scandal. More than two years later, a US Department of Justice press release from last week includes the following:

Novo Nordisk A/S (Novo), a Danish corporation based in Bagsvaerd, Denmark, has agreed to pay a $9 million penalty for illegal kickbacks paid to the former Iraqi government. Novo agreed to pay the fine as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the Department. The matter is part of the Justice Department’s ongoing investigation into the U.N. Oil-for-Food program.

A criminal information was filed today against Novo in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia charging Novo with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to violate the books and records provisions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). Novo, an international manufacturer of insulin, medicines and other pharmaceutical supplies, has acknowledged responsibility for improper payments made by its agents to the former Iraqi government in order to obtain contracts with the Iraqi ministry of health to provide insulin and other medicines. The agreement requires the company and its subsidiaries to cooperate fully with the Justice Department’s ongoing Oil-for-Food investigation.

According to the agreement and the information filed today, between 2001 and 2003, Novo paid approximately $1.4 million to the former Iraqi government by inflating the price of contracts by 10 percent before submitting the contracts to the United Nations for approval and concealed from the United Nations the fact that the price contained a kickback to the former Iraqi government. Novo also admitted it inaccurately recorded the kickback payments as 'commissions' in its books and records.

In recognition of Novo’s thorough review of the illicit payments and its implementation of enhanced compliance policies and procedures, the Department has agreed to defer prosecution of criminal charges against Novo for a period of three years.


In a related matter, Novo reached a settlement today with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on a complaint and agreed to pay $3,025,066 in civil penalties and $6,005,079 in disgorgement of profits, including pre-judgment interest, in connection with contracts for which it paid kickbacks to the former Iraqi government.

Note that so far I can only find coverage of this story in this brief piece from Reuters.

So here we go again. Yet another big health care corporation, in this case, an international pharmaceutical company, admits to criminal conduct, and agrees to operate under a deferred prosecution agreement, while also paying additional millions in a civil settlement. In this case, the amounts of money paid were not particularly large, but the nature of the conduct involved, involving paying to play with a particularly notorious dictator, was striking.

Like most cases involving settlements for unethical behavior, or even deferred prosecutions or convictions for criminal behavior, this one has attracted almost no attention. Have such stories become like "dog bite man" stories, so commonplace that they deserve no notice from a public that has become cynical?

As we have said before, while human beings authorized or committed the acts that got the organization in trouble, rarely do these people seem to suffer any negative consequences. At most, the organization may pay a fine. In this case, the fine was, in corporate terms, tiny. However, even a large fine, however, may come out of dividends or the stock price, dispersing the cost to stock-holders, or out of salaries across the board. Thus, those who got the organization into trouble are unlikely to feel pain from it. Perhaps because of reverence for all organizations related to health care, and fear that the bankruptcy of any health care organization, even a health care insurance company, will leave patients in the lurch, prosecutors do not seem inclined to actually prosecute such organizations. The net effect, though, seems to be that dishonest executives of health care organizations can continue to act with impunity.Until bad leadership of health care organizations leads to negative consequences for those practicing it, health care leadership can be expected to continuously degrade.

Hat Tip to the White Collar Crime Prof Blog.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Deferred or non-prosecution agreements are becoming the norm with pharma settlements, with the exception of the USDA in PA. Corporate Integrity Agreements are fractured often as well, and these also have the same deterrence efficacy as warning letters from DDMAC.

Non-disclosure to the media about such matters is particularly noted in those drug companies not based here. Voices need to be louder to ensure more are aware of these issues:

It strongly indicates cronysm between the DOJ and pharma, and this collusive symbiotic relationship ultimately is dangerous to citizens in the U.S. Add the FDA, and Congress, to the organized crime that has great power.

Any belief that we as citizens are protected from others due to our regulators and government by deception is unfortunate.

Others are conviced that we are being served by what are essentially corrupt poiticians who have similiar dispositions as those who are employed with white collar criminals they mate with in order to protect their life partners are mislead as well.

Thanks for writing this post.