Setback to Sanofi: Court refuses to quash corruption case, directs CBI to continue inquiry
Bengaluru: In a major setback to the pharma giant Sanofi, in a 4-year-old Alleged corruption case the Karnataka High Court has dismissed Sanofi India Ltd. petition seeking for the quashing of conspiracy charges and has directed the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team probing them to go ahead with further investigations. The case concerns Sanofi as well as the Mysuru campus of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC), whereby it had been alleged that the pharma giant cheated BARC by bribing its scientific officer in a tender process
Justice P.S. Dinesh Kumar passed the order while quashing a petition filed by Sanofi India, formerly Aventis Pharma. The company had raised questions over the charge sheet filed by the CBI, while also filing its plea that it could not be prosecuted without its directors or persons in charge of the affairs being criticized as an accused
The case revolves around the alleged malpractice that was carried out between 2011 and 2015 causing a total loss of Rs 3.53 lakh to the government. Allegations of cheating the BARC came to light by conspiring with a scientific officer of the BARC.
The CBI was handed over the probe. Investigations brought to light the alleged irregularities of purchase of medicines at the Rare Materials Project (RMP) unit of BARC in Mysuru on July 31, 2015, against its then Scientific Officer, Dr P Anand. CBI had stated that the main accuse, Anand of BARC Mysuru had received Rs 42,750 as illegal gratification from Sanofi on the pretext of conducting some tests. Anand was the team leader for the medical section at the facility.
It was also alleged that BARC employees reportedly influenced the selection of tenders for the purchase of drugs. They illegally favoured Sanofi and awarded the contract while ignoring other bids received at a much lower price. Moreover, during 2013-14, Sanofi allegedly got favour from the accused Anand for supplying insulin glargine cartridge at a cost of Rs 393.01/cartridge as against lowers bids like Rs 299/cartridge submitted by other firms.
Preliminary findings of the CBI reveals-
- Anand, in 2011-10 fraudulently listed the medicines for whose procurement tenders were called forth as proprietary items which were to be purchased from Sanofi India Ltd evading the tendering process.
- This, according to the CBI, was done after disregarding at least four lower tenders received from various pharmaceutical companies, including international ones.
- Dr Anand also reportedly did not apprise some of the other companies, including Wockhardt Ltd, to eliminate them from participating in the procurement process.
- The total loss suffered by BARC has been listed as over Rs 1.33 lakh. This same modus operandi was repeated in 2013-14 and 2014-15 causing a further loss of at least Rs 90,870 and Rs 1.29 lakh respectively.
- The main arguments to counter the CBI charges from Sanofi's legal counsel also included that the firm as an entity cannot be booked since it was not an individual and the CBI had not listed any specific instances to prove otherwise.
Sanofi has put forth its objection along with previous court rulings that pharma company could not be tried as a corporate entity and mens rea argument will not stand legal scrutiny.
"The prosecution presented its objection that as per section 10 and 120 (A) of the IPC along with 305 of CrPC (Criminal Procedure Code) along with previous court rulings that the pharma company could be tried as a corporate entity and hence the mens rea argument will not stand legal scrutiny. It has also been proven that the accused BARC employee had made false records to facilitate the purchase of items from Sanofi," Prasanna Kumar, CBI counsel told Bangalore Mirror.
"The CBI came into the case since it involved corruption at one of the most sensitive establishments of our nation. This was also raised before the court when the petition was being heard by the court. The investigators also probed the case closely since it also dealt with external parties gaining access to proceedings of a high-security installation like BARC through corruption and bribery," said CBI counsel P Prasanna Kumar while arguing the case quotes the daily.
As per the recent hearing, the high court has rejected the company's claim that it could not have been prosecuted without its directors or persons in charge of the affairs being criticized as an accused, and held that the charge sheet filed under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act is maintainable and requires a trial.
According to The Hindu, the court further said that the trial is necessary as the charge sheet contains the details of bids from other companies for supplying medicines to BARC, Mysuru.
Meghna A Singhania is the founder and Editor-in-Chief at Medical Dialogues. An Economics graduate from Delhi University and a post graduate from London School of Economics and Political Science, her key research interest lies in health economics, and policy making in health and medical sector in the country. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Contact no. 011-43720751