Drug officials arrested on bribery charges

Beijing — Five officials of the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) have been arrested for allegedly accepting bribes and another was suspended from duty, the Economic Observer reported on Sunday.

The six officials had already been placed under shuanggui — a form of detention in which an official is asked to confess wrongdoing — for allegedly accepting bribes since last December, the report said.

The scandal surfaced after a report from a drug company said Wei Liang, an official from the drug registry department of the SFDA, allegedly accepted bribes of 1.5 million yuan ($221,000).

The investigation is still under way, and more people are likely to be involved in the case, an industry insider who did not want to be named was quoted as saying.

Wei Liang was an investigator in the departments of drug registry and drug safety and inspection of the SFDA, which is in charge of issuing production licenses for biological products and supervising drug safety.

Biological products include vaccine, blood products, diagnosis products and culture mediums.

The work of the other five officials is also related to supervising the safety of biological products. Two were from other departments of the SFDA, and three worked for the National Institute for the Control of Pharmaceutical and Biological Products, an affiliated institute of the SFDA.

So far, nothing shows that the five officials were involved in the same case as Wei. The bribes they allegedly took were also far less, according to the news report.

It is the second major bribery scandal concerning the SFDA in less than four years. Zheng Xiaoyu, former head of the SFDA, was executed on July 10, 2007 for taking bribes of 6.49 million yuan for approving licenses for new drugs.

“Zheng’s scandal spurred the country’s determination to crack down on irregularities in the entire process from the approval of new drugs to their manufacture and sale,” said Feng Yun, a lawyer specializing in the pharmaceutical industry. “In the latest case, the fact that no senior official was involved indicates the crackdown has already found some success.”

However, supervision for the officials who hold important posts overseeing the country’s drug supply should be strengthened, the lawyer said.

“Generally speaking, a drug company needs to spend 2 million yuan in the whole process to get a license for a new drug, which usually takes two to three years. Some companies tend to get the license as earlier as possible to earn more money. Therefore, offering bribes to officials was a good move in their eyes,” he said.

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