Pfizer is the latest drugmaker to come under the scrutiny of the US authorities over its overseas sales practices in the context of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The US Department of Justice and Securities & Exchange Commission have been talking to a number of drugmakers in the last couple of years, as part of a wide-ranging investigation into the payment of kickbacks to "foreign health officials" in return for benefits such as the inclusion of products on formularies.
Pfizer said in an SEC filing that it had voluntarily provided information to the DoJ and SEC concerning "potentially improper payments made by Pfizer and by Wyeth in connection with certain sales activities outside the US."
Speaking just after the launch of the investigation towards the end of 2009, assistant attorney general Lanny Breuer said that the DoJ would give "meaningful credit" to drugmakers choosing to voluntarily disclose FCPA violations and cooperating with the investigators.
A number of other drugmakers are under investigation in connection with the FCPA, and some have already agreed to settle allegations. Earlier this year, Johnson & Johnson agreed to pay almost $80 million in connection with allegations that it bribed officials in Europe and Iraq in return for product orders.
Merck & Co said last week it was also being investigated under the FCPA in connection with allegations that Schering-Plough - which it bought in 2009 - paid kickbacks to doctors in Vietnam in return for prescribing hepatitis C drug PegIntron (pegylated interferon alfa-2b). Meanwhile, Eli Lilly has said it is also close to resolving overseas bribery allegations.
Pfizer - which acquired Wyeth in 2009 - is also being investigated by overseas governments in connection with improper payments, including in Germany where there is a civil and criminal investigation ongoing.