Pfizer (PFE)'s settlement of the Trovan case -- in which it was accused of unethically testing a meningitis drug on African children in 1996 without their consent -- appears to have been triggered, in part, by WikiLeaks and Pfizer's failed attempt to keep secret allegations it bribed Nigerian officials. Eleven children died in the experiment. The settlement, for an undisclosed sum, came after three linked events:
- December 2010: WikiLeaks' U.S. diplomatic cables say that Pfizer attempted to find evidence that a Nigerian attorney general was corrupt in order to pressure him to settle the case. Pfizer denied the cables.
- January 2011: Someone anonymously sent the German newspaper SÃ¼ddeutsche Zeitung a copy of a 2007 letter written by former Pfizer researcher Dr. Juan Walterspiel to Pfizer's CEO and board alleging the company paid bribes to Nigerian officials to approve fake documents that allowed the Trovan tests to go ahead.
- February 4, 2011: Pfizer tried and failed to persuade a federal judge to seal Walterspiel's letter. "We believe Mr. Walterspiel is attempting to use the Court, without the Court's knowledge, as a vehicle for violating enforceable legal agreements he signed after his departure from Pfizer," the company argued. The judge denied the request.
- February 4, 2011: On the same day, the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a different case that claims by foreigners against a corporation cannot be brought under the Alien Tort Statute, undermining the basis of the Nigerian plaintiffs' case in New York federal court.
The letter -- a discoverable document -- was never revealed by Pfizer to any of the plaintiffs. It was in the hands of Pfizer CEO, Pfizer Board members and Pfizer employees in Nigeria. In the wake of Wikileaks in December, it was sent anonymously (I assume by a Nigerian Pfizer employee in distress) to the German Sueddeutsche Zeitung and possible other Newspapers, that published on its contents on 12-24-2011 [under the headline] "When Children Die". Once herewith in the public domain, it was also sent to Judge Pauley who elected to make it public.Walterspiel's allegations had previously been rejected by the judge in 2005 after Pfizer produced a witness to deny them (see pages 10 and 29 of this ruling). Walterspiel's earlier declaration in the case was largely ignored by the media because it was only filed on paper with the court, and not on the court's online docket. Walterspiel was fired the day after he wrote his letter.
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