The Ministry of Health has called on police to investigate an American medical equipment manufacturer that has admitted to bribing Vietnamese officials.
Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien filed a formal request on Wednesday with the Ministry of Public Security that asked investigators to determine whether anyone had accepted kickbacks from Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc.
On the same day, the ministry’s inspectors instructed government hospitals to review any purchases from from Bio-Rad since 2005 and submit a report on the issue by November 15.
On Monday, Bio-Rad agreed to pay $55 million to settle allegations that it bribed officials in Russia, Vietnam and Thailand for public contracts.
In a deal struck with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the company avoided criminal prosecution under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by cooperating in the probe.
Bio-Rad's leadership has allegedly acknowledged that subsidiaries in Europe and Asia bribed government officials between 2005 and 2010 with money funneled to poorly-disguised middlemen.
The SEC said that the company paid roughly $7.5 million in bribes over five years to secure $35 million in "illicit profits."
Vietnam's Ministry of Health has pledged to inspect hospitals that purchased equipment from Bio-Rad and then review the prices to detect abnormalities.
“The Health Ministry will ask relevant US agencies to provide [official] information relating to the accusations,” said Dang Van Chinh, the ministry’s chief inspector.
Nguyen Minh Tuan, director of the Medical Equipment and Construction Department, said Bio-Rad first came to Vietnam in 2005-2006 to sell medical equipment and chemicals to hospitals.
“It suddenly withdrew from the Vietnamese market about a year ago without really explaining why,” he said.
But Phan Thanh Hai, director of the HCMC-based Medic Medical Center, said hospitals here have purchased HIV and hepatitis test kits from Bio-Rad since 2003.
He said the company closed its office in Vietnam last year, but continued to sell its products through third parties.
Nguyen Ngoc Hien, deputy director of Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, said they used diagnostic equipment provided by Bio-Rad in the past.
The company lent the machinery for free but required the hospital to purchase chemicals components, he said.