The Price of Admission: 10 Medical Companies Suspected of Paying Bribes in Foreign Countries

Last Updated Jul 21, 2010 4:20 PM EDT

AstraZeneca (AZN), Baxter International (BAX), Eli Lilly (LLY) and Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMY) are suspected of paying bribes to do business in foreign countries, suggesting that kickbacks are standard operating procedure for big pharmaceutical companies.

At least 10 companies are under investigation by the SEC or the Department of Justice for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Here's a breakdown of who's on the hot seat:

Why is it so common for major companies to be paying baksheesh abroad? MainJustice blames it on socialized medicine:
To a large extent, health care in the countries of interest is state-run, and ... doctors' salaries are typically lower in national programs, creating more demand for sweeteners and kickbacks.

"When you have millions and billions [of dollars in play], someone is getting some kickbacks somewhere. It's low-hanging fruit, and that's all there is to it," said a defense lawyer who is representing one of the companies.

So single-payer healthcare causes bribes? That seems a rather convenient excuse that lifts responsibility from the companies who actually pay the backhanders. Especially as kickbacks are even more common here in the U.S., where the free market is supposed to reward doctors enough to not want them.

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Image by Flickr user neubie, CC.