Legal experts have been reacting to the news that France’s Servier has been accused by the European Commission of providing incorrect information during its recent inquiry into the pharmaceutical industry’s practices.

The Commission has sent a ‘statement of objections’ under EU antitrust rules to Servier, saying that its “provisional view is that it has evidence that Servier has provided misleading and incorrect information” in the context of a pharmaceutical competition sector inquiry which started in January 2008 and was concluded in July last year. As part of that probe, the EC sent out several questionnaires to various stakeholders, in particular pharmaceutical companies and it is not happy with Servier’s reply.

If, at the outcome of the investigation, the Commission concludes there is sufficient evidence that Servier, “intentionally or negligently, provided such misleading and incorrect information”, it may impose a fine of up to 1% of the total turnover of the privately-held company in the preceding business year. Servier’s annual sales are around 3.6 billion euros.

Stephen Rose, partner at law firm Eversheds, said that the pharmaceutical sector inquiry “was a fishing expedition by the Commission looking to understand whether competition breaches are blocking the emergence of generic medicines”. It found enough evidence to open ‘abuse of dominance’ proceedings against Servier, and “these latest proceedings will come as a further blow to the company”, he noted.

No details as to what the EC is unhappy about have been disclosed, Mr Rose went on to say that “if the suspicions are borne out, Servier can expect a significant fine”. He added that the Commission will want to send an unequivocal message that companies must comply with sector inquiries or face the consequences."

Servier noted that any final decision had not been prejudged by the Commission and that it was co-operating fully with the commission.