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Ropes & Gray lands marquee role in GSK Chinese bribery investigation

Even in an age in which corporate investigations have become some of the most sought after work for legal advisers, Ropes & Gray has secured a notable role with the US law firm instructed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to lead an investigation into claims that some staff in the pharma giant’s Chinese operations engaged in bribery.

Chinese authorities have arrested four GSK executives, including senior Chinese legal counsel Zhao Hongyan, amid allegations that GSK staff have attempted to bribe doctors to use the company’s medication.

Abbas Hussain, GSK’s president of Europe, Japan, emerging markets & Asia Pacific, said this week: ‘I want to make it very clear that we share the desire of the Chinese authorities to root out corruption wherever it exists. We will continue to work together with the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and we will take all necessary actions required as this investigation progresses.’

GSK chief executive Sir Andrew Witty also on Wednesday (24 July) said at a results presentation that the FTSE 100 company would be moving to improve its internal controls.

A spokesperson for the 1,000-lawyer Ropes confirmed that partners Colleen Conry and Brien O’Connor, heads of the government enforcement group based in Boston, are involved in the investigation with a number of other lawyers. Conry and O’Connor were involved with winning an acquittal for a senior GSK official who was prosecuted in 2011 over allegations of false representation in a government investigation into the marketing of anti-depressant Wellbutrin.

It is unclear if GSK is set to face scrutiny in the UK for potential breaches of the Bribery Act, which covers UK company’s foreign outposts. GSK said in a statement that it is reviewing all third party agency relationships and also reviewing its compliance procedures in China.

The high stakes mandate underlines the growing demand from bluechips for internal investigations, with Linklaters recently being instructed by UK security firm G4S over claims that it had been over-charging for services . The dramatic growth in the practice area and white collar crime in general has been driven by the tougher enforcement stance among prosecutors and watchdogs in many countries in recent years, in addition to an increasing willingness by regulators to co-operate internationally.