UK Serious Fraud Office investigating GlaxoSmithKline

GlaxoSmithKline confirmed Tuesday that the UK's Serious Fraud Office (SFO) opened a "formal criminal investigation" into the commercial practices of the company and its subsidiaries. A spokesperson for the drugmaker said "GlaxoSmithKline is committed to operating its business to the highest ethical standards and will continue to cooperate fully with the SFO," but provided no further details.

The action comes weeks after authorities in China, where GlaxoSmithKline has been the subject of a corruption inquiry since last July, accused the former head of its Chinese business, Mark Reilly, of "large-scale" bribery in the country. The company declined to comment on whether the SFO's investigation was connected to the accusations against Reilly.

Besides China, GlaxoSmithKline said last month that investigations into bribery allegations by company staff are also under way in Poland and Iraq, as well as Jordan and Lebanon. Legal experts have recently suggested that the drugmaker could face greater scrutiny by UK and US authorities as a result of these ongoing probes. Last September, a GlaxoSmithKline spokesperson confirmed that US officials expanded a probe of the company's operations in other countries to include the alleged breach of anti-bribery laws in China.

The drugmaker previously denied that it has a "systemic issue with unethical behaviour," and that a system is in place for it to handle violations, which last year resulted in 48 dismissals and 113 written warnings. Moreover, CEO Andrew Witty announced plans last December to eliminate individual sales targets for all sales employees, after a similar programme was implemented in the US in 2011.

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