The police opened a criminal case over fraud on an especially large scale against former employees of the Russian subsidiary of the Swiss corporation Roche. They are suspected of selling drugs against cancer in the black market and bribing doctors.

New Delhi, March 29, 2018:

Precious employees

In mid-2017 and early in 2018, the Main Investigation Department of the Main Directorate of Internal Affairs of St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region instituted two criminal cases against former employees of the international pharmaceutical company Roche. This follows from the decisions to initiate criminal proceedings, copies of which were reviewed by RBC. The authenticity of the documents was confirmed by a source close to the Interior Ministry. The Roche company said that they were informed of the investigation.

According to the investigation, unidentified individuals and former employees of the pharmaceutical company stole and resold an expensive drug against blood rituximab (brands MabThera and Acellbia) in the black market for a total of about 60 million rubles ($1m). Until 2014, rituximab under the brand MabThera was produced by Roche only. In 2014 a domestic analogue Acellbia of the Russian company BIOCAD came to the market, it follows from the state register of medicines.

The first case was initiated under part 4 of Art. 159 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Swindling on an especially large scale committed by an organized group, punishment – up to ten years in a strict-security colony) in June 2017 against unidentified persons who illegally received prescriptions for 558 packages of rituximab (500 mg) from doctors at the St. Petersburg City Clinical Oncology Dispensary and 806 packs of 100 mg and sold them in the pharmacy № 5 of the network Petersburg pharmacies (rituximab, if indicated, is given free of charge). The drug, according to investigators, was resold on the black market. Damage to the budget from the abduction and resale of medicines is estimated at almost 55 million rubles.

At the end of January 2018, the investigators initiated a second case under part 4 of Art. 159 of the Criminal Code and designated the figurants. They were former regional manager of Roche Vladislav Alexandrov and Ekaterinburg resident Evgeny Zakharov. As stated by Roche to RBC, Alexandrov does not work in the company since 2014. Investigators believe that Alexandrov and Zakharov, along with unidentified persons, illegally prescribed rituximab, received it at pharmacy No. 5 of the Petersburg pharmacies and sold it on the black market. From 2013 to 2015, doctors at St. Petersburg City Hospital No. 15 wrote out 34 packages of rituximab 500 mg and 31 packs of 100 mg for a total of 2.9 million rubles ($51.400) for Alexandrov and Zakharov, the copy of the ruling says. The drugs were sold through the affiliated company of Zakharov NPP RusecomedLLC, investigators believe.

City Hospital No. 15 did not respond to RBC’s request. According to chief oncologist of St. Petersburg Georgy Manihasa, this institution does not prescribe rituximab since 2009. Such drugs can be prescribed by hematologists who are not in the dispensary, he notes.

Searching for documents

As part of the investigation, police officers ransacked the apartment of the defendants and three other former Rocheemployees, Dmitry Valyakin, Andrey Kirievsky and Igor Klimko, as follows from the case file; like Alexandrov, Valyakin, Kirievsky and Klimko do not work in Roche since 2014, the company says. After that, the investigators held a seizure of documents at the head office of Roche in Moscow. Roche refused to talk about the seizure, referring to the secrecy of the investigation according to

The investigators were interested in certificates of completion, lecture materials, presentations, conference programs, lists of persons who visited such events, rent agreements, information on transfer of funds for services rendered, contracts related to the organization of lectures and scientific events.

The resolution on the seizure, with which RBC was familiarized, said that during the investigative actions, “information was obtained about the distribution of funds received from ROSH-Moscow by doctors working in the clinics of St. Petersburg.” All this, investigators conclude, may point at the commission of a crime under Art. 290 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation (Bribe-Taking).

The police found a USB flash drive at one of the former employees of the pharmaceutical company; there was a file with information about payments to doctors recorded at the expense of ROSH-Moscow CJSC (a legal entity of Roche in Russia), the protocol of examination of seized items says. The file, the document notes, lists the names of doctors with comments justifying the amount of bonuses, including how many and what drugs the doctor prescribed.

It follows from the protocol, the file includes this: “for the application of 800 packs of Herceptin and 300 packages of Avastinfor the treatment of ovarian cancer and glyblastam in equal proportions.” Roche manufactures both drugs.

Roche refused to specify how employees of the company Alexandrov, Valyakin, Kirievsky and Klimko resigned. Head of the Legal, Compliance and Corporate Communications Division of Roche in Russia Inna Panteleeva informed RBC that the company became aware of the criminal cases against employees who left Roche in 2014, from the authorities’ official notification. The company, Panteleeva says, is cooperating with the investigation. Answering whether the company pays doctors, and if so, why, Panteleeva replied that “the interaction with the medical community is built on clear criteria and is limited to the scope of scientific activity.” “Such situations happen, we discuss it in a narrow pharmaceutical community, but it’s almost impossible to get to criminal cases,” Nikolay Bespalov, RNC Pharma analytical development director, told RBC. “In addition, usually it is about the interests of some individuals. If the Ministry of Internal Affairs proves that the company’s management was related to payments to doctors, it will be unprecedented for Russia,” he said.