28/05/2014 06:09 BST | Updated 28/05/2014 07:59 BST

GlaxoSmithKline In Fraud Squad Probe Over Bribery Claims

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A logo sits on a metal security gate outside GlaxoSmithKline Plc's headquarters in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014. GlaxoSmithKline, the U.K.'s biggest drugmaker, forecast that revenue will rise by about 2 percent this year as it introduces new medicines. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline's commercial practices are under criminal investigation by the UK's major fraud unit, the company said.

The London-based multinational said in a statement that the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has opened a "formal criminal investigation".

A spokesman said: "GSK is committed to operating its business to the highest ethical standards and will continue to co-operate fully with the SFO."

GSK has been at the centre of a slew of allegations in recent months from investigators in China, Iraq and Poland, after company reps were alleged to have paid doctors and hospital officials to prescribe its products ahead of others.

Earlier this month, Chinese police accused Mark Reilly, a senior executive, of pressing his sales team to bribe doctors, hospital officials and health institutions, allegedly resulting in "illegal revenue" of billions of yuan.

Reilly and two Chinese executives were also accused of bribing government officials in Beijing and Shanghai. GSK whistleblower Jarek Wisniewiski told the BBC's Panorama programme last month that reps had paid doctors to boost prescriptions in Poland.

Another former GSK drug rep, who did not want to be identified, said they paid doctors for lectures that never happened and this would result in a greater number of prescriptions.

Panorama reported that a criminal investigation was under way and that 11 doctors and one GSK regional manager had been charged in connection with corruption.

If the new allegations were successfully prosecuted, then GSK may have violated both the UK's Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the programme said. In both countries it is illegal for companies based there to bribe government employees abroad.

The SFO confirmed that its director had opened a criminal investigation into the commercial practices of GSK and its subsidiaries.

A spokeswoman said: "Whistleblowers are valuable sources of information to the SFO in its cases.

"We welcome approaches from anyone with inside information on all our cases including this one - we can be contacted through our secure and confidential reporting channel, which can be accessed via the SFO website."

GSK risked stoking diplomatic tensions between China and Britain when Prime Minister David Cameron was accompanied by the drugs giant's boss Sir Andrew Witty on a trip to the country amid the furore over alleged bribery.