POLITICS
02/12/2013 11:06 GMT | Updated 02/12/2013 11:13 GMT

GSK CEO Andrew Witty Joins David Cameron In China Amid Bribery Probe

POOL via Getty Images
British Prime Minister David Cameron (R) talks with CEO of GlaxoSmithKline Andrew Witty during a visit to GlaxoSmithKline's plant at Ulverston in Cumbria on March 22, 2012. British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline will create 1,000 jobs and open a new production site in northern England, it said on March 22, citing the government's budget as a key reason for the investment. AFP PHOTO / POOL / James Glossop (Photo credit should read James Glossop/AFP/Getty Images)

David Cameron may risk diplomatic tensions by bringing Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GlaxoSmithKline on his trade mission to China, while the pharmaceuticals giant is under investigation amid accusations that it acted as the criminal "godfather" of a massive bribery network.

GlaxoSmithKline's Chinese wing, which employs 7,000 people, was put under investigation in July over allegations that it acted as the "ringleader" in a bribery network that channelled up to three billion yuan (£303 million) to hospitals, doctors and officials to boost its drug sales. Police detained four GSK executives in China as part of the investigation.

Gao Feng, head of the economic crimes investigation unit at the Ministry of Public Security, said in July: "From our investigation, bribery is part of the strategy of this company. This is why they have bribery activities in China."

"They used travel agents as a money platform. But I must make it clear that among these partners, GSK is the main party responsible. It is like a criminal organisation, there is always a boss. In this game, GSK is the godfather."

Sir Andrew Witty, GSK chief executive and part of the Prime Minister's business advisory group, sent his head of emerging markets, Abbas Hussain, to manage GSK's response. The probe could conclude as soon as this month.

The probe caused sales in the country to fall by 61%, leading Witty to blame Chinese media for whipping up "an anxiety which has led to some disruption in the business". GSK sold £759 million of pharmaceuticals and vaccines in China in 2012, up 17% on 2011, comprising around 3.5% of the group's total.

In response to the allegations, Sir Andrew said: "The activities described by the authorities are very serious and totally unacceptable. They are contrary to our values and to everything I believe in. We very clearly recognise there is a profound need to earn the trust of Chinese people again. We will take every action to do so.

"We continue to fully co-operate with the authorities and respect the progress of the investigation. As such there is very little further I can say."