No Sex Please, We’re British: More from GSK in China

by Thomas Fox

No Sex PleaseThe above is the title of a British television show/play/movie which is a farcical romp about a newlywed couple who mistakenly receive an initial shipment of pornographic pictures, then movies and women, all sent from Sweden to England. The plot turns on their attempts to dispose of the ‘offending materials’ while under the noses of their parents/in-laws, employers and friends. In his review of the show, Christopher Heath said, “No Sex Please, We’re British shows how we stuffy Brits tie ourselves in knots when it comes to this subject. The funny thing is how the cast, led by Ronnie Corbett, handle their predicament and it has to be said, they cope with aplomb. As you might expect, the plot is all about mix-ups, keeping a stiff upper lip, maintaining a veneer of social respectability, not getting found out about something someone hasn’t done and failing miserably.”

I thought about that ubiquitous work of British visual and audio entertainment when the revelations from late June that the GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) PLC corruption scandal all started with a sex tape. In an article in the MailOnline, entitled “How a secret sex tape plunged British drugs giant Glaxo in a £90million bribery probe”, Rebecca Evans reported “A covert sex tape involving a senior executive and his Chinese lover was the trigger for a major investigation into corruption at British drugs giant GlaxoSmith-Kline, it was revealed yesterday. The video of married Mark Reilly and his girlfriend was filmed by secret camera and emailed anonymously to board members of the pharmaceutical firm. It led to an investigation that has rocked the £76billion company – which stands accused of bribing doctors and other health officials in China with £320million of gifts, including sexual favours from prostitutes, to persuade them to prescribe its drugs.”

This sex tape, along with allegations of bribery and corruption, were sent to GSK Board members, including Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Andrew Witty in March 2013 by someone with the email address “GSK Whistleblower”. Evans reported that two additional emails “making serious fraud allegations” were sent as well, one in January and one in May. In an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled “Sex Video Sheds Light in Glaxo China Case”, Laurie Burkitt reported that “The British drug maker regarded the video—apparently shot without the executive’s knowledge—as a breach of security, the person said.” Evans reported that in addition to this security breach, GSK believed the sex tape to be a “threat or blackmail attempt”. One of GSK’s responses was to hire the firm ChinaWhys Co., to investigate the matter. The firm’s principals, former journalist Peter Humphrey and Yu Yingzeng, a naturalized US citizen, were not able to determine who placed the video camera in Reilly’s Shanghai apartment, who shot the video or who sent it to GSK executives. However Evans reported “But a few months after starting to investigate Miss Shi, Mr Humphrey was arrested along with his wife Yu Yingzeng, a US citizen and daughter of one of China’s most eminent atomic weapons scientists. According to the Sunday Times, Mr Humphrey’s arrest and detention in July was at around the same time that China began a police probe into GSK’s alleged bribery.” And, unfortunately for Humphrey and his wife, they were arrested last August for allegedly breaking of Chinese laws relating to information privacy.

In addition to the investigation into the provenance of the sex tape and its sender, GSK had also engaged in an internal investigation into the substantive allegations of bribery brought forward by the “GSK Whistleblower” in emails to the GSK Board in January and May, 2013. As reported by Evans, “The emails laid out a series of sales and marketing practices described as ‘pervasive corruption’.” Unfortunately for the company, GSK “found ‘no specific evidence’ to substantiate the claims. However, the accusations are virtually identical to the charges laid by police against Mr Reilly and 45 other suspects. Last month, Britain’s Serious Fraud Office announced it is to investigate the company’s ‘commercial practices’.”

‘Honey-pots’ and ‘Sparrow-nests’ are well known terms for anyone who has read cold war tales of espionage between the former Soviet Union and the US. However, the Reilly sex-tape and the GSK bribery scandal would seem to be an entirely different can of worms. In an article in Time, entitled “What the GSK Sex Tape Says About Surveillance in China, Hannah Beech wrote that in China, “Surveillance – or the threat of surveillance — is a constant in China. As a journalist, I may be more interesting to the powers that be than some other foreigners here. But other expat friends who’ve been followed, hacked or otherwise tracked in China include diplomats, NGO staff and businesspeople. Also, artists and academics.” Such surveillance includes having “email auto-forwarding mysteriously activated or to be tailed by a black Audi while on assignment in the Chinese countryside.”

For the compliance practitioner the lessons of GSK in China continue to resonate, unfortunately for the negative consequences to GSK and its employees. All of the above articles note that the allegations of bribery and corruption presented to GSK by the “GSK Whistleblower” were also made to Chinese officials, who then began to investigate the company. Andrew Ward, reporting in a Financial Times (FT) entitled “Sex tape adds to murk of GSK China scandal”, said “A separate internal investigation was already under way into the bribery allegations that had first been made by a whistleblower in January.” Unfortunately for GSK, its internal investigation failed to turn up any evidence of bribery and corruption. More unfortunately for the company, “Mr. Reilly, a Briton and long-time GSK executive, was among 46 company employees identified by Chinese police in May as suspects when they handed evidence of “massive and systematic bribery” to prosecutors after a 10-month investigation.”

It does seem incredible at this point that any serious internal investigation could fail to turn up any of the evidence that the Chinese government has been able to develop against GSK. This points to the absolute importance of your internal investigations. Although the GSK investigation was focused in China, the same is true in the US, particularly for a US listed company subject to Dodd-Frank. Further, we must invoke that well-known British author George Orwell for reminding you that in some countries Big Brother really is watching you. And finally, you may not be paranoid as people really may be watching you and filming your most intimate acts.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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Thomas Fox

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