GlaxoSmithKline, under a cloud of bribery and corruption charges from China and elsewhere, has revealed that its marketing activities are now being probed by fraud officers in the UK.

The company issued a brief statement noting that the Serious Fraud Office "has opened a formal criminal investigation into the group’s commercial practices". GSK added that it is "committed to operating its business to the highest ethical standards and will continue to cooperate fully with the SFO".

The latter confirmed it had launched a probe into the commercial practices of GSK "and its subsidiaries". In a statement sent to PharmaTimes, the SFO added that "whistleblowers are valuable sources of information" and that "we welcome approaches from anyone with inside information on all our cases including this one".

The agency noted that "we can be contacted through our secure and confidential reporting channel, which can be accessed via the SFO website".

News of the SFO investigation comes a couple of weeks after Chinese authorities accused Mark Reilly, former head of GSK's operations in the country, of ordering employees to commit bribery following a ten-month investigation. Since the bribery scandal in China emerged last summer, GSK has started to overhaul its sales and marketing practices worldwide, but claims are being investigated that bribes were also paid to doctors in Poland, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon.

If any of the allegations are proved about illegal activities abroad, GSK would be in huge trouble for violating the UK Bribery Act and also the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act; regulators across the Atlantic are already conducting an investigation.

Mick Cooper, an analyst at Edison Investment Research, said the SFO probe "crystallises simmering concerns over bribery of doctors and hospital staff in a number of emerging countries, notably China". He added that "the timing is unfortunate since it will distract market attention from the positive strategic developments that the management has been working hard to deliver. Other companies will no doubt be looking hard at every area of their operations and hoping not to find any skeletons in their cupboards".