Frankfurt prosecutors on Monday confirmed German media reports that numerous dialysis firm employees were under investigation — based on findings of a US out-of-court settlement reached early this year.
In March, Fresenius Medical Care (FMC), an offshoot of the medical concern Fresenius, announced it had in total paid $231.7 million (€207 million) in a settlement with the US Department of Justice and the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
On Sunday, two German public broadcasters, NDR and WDR, alongside the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, alleged FMC personnel paid bribes to get foreign clinics to establish dialysis wards and purchase dialysis products — used to treat patients with kidney ailments.
Bribes in 17 countries
In 17 countries, bribes worth "many millions" had flowed primarily to doctors and state employees as provisions or consultants' fees, said the media outlets.
Citing a 17-page SEC report, WDR wrote of bribery payments in Saudi Arabia, Angola, Gabon, Cameroon, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ivory Coast, Niger and Senegal.
"Questionable payments" were also made in Turkey, Spain, Portugal, China, Serbia, Bosnia, Morocco and Mexico, the reports said.
German authorities 'notified'
Their report quoted FMC itself as saying it had voluntary notified the relevant German authorities, adding that the incidents amounted to less than 1% of FMC's turnover. It had first made the cases public in 2012, FMC said.
"Since then we have supported the authorities in their investigations entirely," said FMC, telling WDR when questioned that for two managers mentioned in the SEC report "consequences" had ensued.
'Cash in safes'
Illustrating the alleged bribery, WDR said $4.7 million was paid via checks to doctors of public hospitals in Saudi Arabia. On occasions bags of cash had lain in safes.
In Cameroon, a doctor had allegedly received a $5 bonus for every FMC dialysis kit used. In Turkey, a professorship had been established and funded. In Morocco military doctors had allegedly benefited.
Following up on Sunday's report, the news magazine Spiegel on Monday said FMC was active worldwide and was a large supplier to almost 4000 treatment centers.
A similar report was carried by Germany's Manager-Magazin.
At FMC's annual general meeting in May, shareholders returned FMC's managerial and supervisory boards, but with only 56.8% and 52.3% endorsement respectively.