The Ministry of Health created a special taskforce to investigate the eight hospitals that imported medical equipment from Bio-Rad – a US firm that admitted to bribing Vietnamese healthcare officials for procurement contracts.
Deputy Health Minister Pham Le Tuan will head the task force that includes top leaders from relevant departments in the ministry, according to a decision issued Tuesday.
Tuan's team will coordinate with diplomatic agencies and relevant US agencies to collect information related to Bio-Rad's dealings in Vietnam.
It will also identify all facilities that employ Bio-Rad equipment and review it's operations in Vietnam.
Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien said the task force will tightly cooperate with investigators “in every respect” and swiftly punish any violations it discovers.
The ministry has so far identified eight institutes and hospitals that imported equipment from Bio-Rad, the Government website reported.
Hospitals that imported equipment from the disgraced American company have until November 15 to report their dealings with Bio-Rad to the ministry.
According to the government’s website, Bio-Rad Laboratories did business in Vietnam between 2005 and 2013 through its representative offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
The health ministry said Bio-Rad's diagnostic machinery ended up in Vietnam's hospitals through a variety of channels, including donations, public procurement contracts, equipment rentals and sales to private hospitals.
On November 3, Bio-Rad agreed to pay US$55 million to settle allegations that it bribed officials in Russia, Vietnam and Thailand for public contracts.
The company avoided criminal prosecution under the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by cooperating with the probe and signing a plea deal with the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
Bio-Rad's leadership has allegedly acknowledged that subsidiaries in Europe and Asia bribed government officials between 2005 and 2010 with money it 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."
According to the SEC, Bio-Rad maintained a sales representative office in Vietnam between 2005 and 2009.
The Vietnamese government's website claims the firm had an office in the southern city between 2005 and 2013.
A country manager reportedly supervised the Vietnam office's sales activities and was authorized to approve contracts worth up to $100,000 and sales commissions of up to $20,000, according to the SEC.
At the direction of the country manager, sales representatives made cash payments to officials at government-owned hospitals and laboratories in exchange for agreements to buy Bio-Rad’s products.
Between 2005 and the end of 2009, the Vietnam office made improper payments of $2.2 million to agents or distributors who reportedly then funneled those funds to Vietnamese government officials.