Nigerian government lawyers have filed criminal charges against the American drug firm Pfizer. The lawyers accuse Pfizer of carrying out illegal tests of drugs in Nigeria. Gilbert da Costa has more for VOA in this report from Abuja.
Nigeria has accused Pfizer of criminal misconduct in the trials of a meningitis drug in the northern city of Kano in 1996.
|Zubairu Shaba shows a picture of one of his kids who was tested with the meningitis epidemic experimental drug and now suffers brain damage in Kano, 19 July 2007|
At the time, there was a meningitis epidemic in the city and the government accuses Pfizer of taking advantage of the epidemic to test an experimental drug without the authorization or full understanding of the families tested. Pfizer denies wrongdoing, but the government says the company's tests contributed to the deaths of some of the children and made others sick.
"The government believes there have been violations of law which constitute criminal offenses, and that's the basis of the criminal charges," said Babatunde Irukela, lead counsel for the Nigerian government. "There are 23 counts of them revolving around conduct before, through and after the clinical trials that occurred in Kano in 1996."
An undisclosed number of Pfizer officials in Nigeria are due to be formally charged when the case begins October 29. Irukela says the accused persons could face jail if convicted.
"The penalties are different. In some cases there are several months of imprisonment or a fine, in some of them it is up to nine years imprisonment and all kinds of different things," he added.
The New York-based drug company is also facing a multi-billion-dollar civil lawsuit by the Nigerian government over the disputed trials. The Nigerian government Wednesday re-filed the necessary court papers to permit the resumption of civil proceedings.
Pfizer maintains that it had approval for the drug trial, which it says helped to save lives."
So Pfizer's lawyer yesterday was doing what Pfizers lawyers do in courtrooms - distort the truth or, in common language, they LIE.
Here's Pfizer's Lawyer's statement yesterday, 24th July, re the lawsuit:
Pfizer Lawyers Deny Nigeria Government Refiled Suit Vs Company
July 24, 2007: 05:45 PM EST
ABUJA, Nigeria (AP)--The Nigerian government hasn't refiled a multibillion dollar lawsuit against Pfizer Inc. (PFE) to add more serious charges as its counsel claimed, lawyers representing the world's biggest drugmaker said Tuesday.
The suit is one of four cases pending against the New York-based pharmaceutical company over a mid-1990s trial of an experimental antibiotic during a meningitis outbreak in northern Nigeria. The government has charged that the company conducted the study without the full knowledge of parents or proper regulatory approval - contributing to deaths of some children and illness in others.
Hearings were supposed to resume last week, but the Nigerian government withdrew the suit. Government lawyer Babatunde Irukera said then that the government only withdrew its complaint to refile the suit with additional documents supporting a more serious fraud charge. He confirmed to an Associated Press reporter Tuesday that the papers had been filed.
However, Pfizer's lawyer said in a statement that they had checked at the court registry and found no record that the suit had been re-filed.
"In fact as at 10 a.m. this morning the 24th of July 2007 no new suit had been filed by the federal government," the statement by Chief Afe Babalola said.
"The federal government on their own discontinued the case...because the case has no merit," the statement said.
[The lawyer maybe have reasonably assumed I suppose that because the suit hadn't been filed yesterday that it wasn't going ahead, but the latter sentence, in bold, amounts to a LIE - DECEPTION, DISHONESTY, LACK OF INTEGRITY and...assuming that it would not go ahead because it wasn't there yesterday therefore it was safe to lie, also indicates both ARROGANCE and STUPIDITY]
Representatives of the court registrar told The Associated Press that he was unavailable and didn't provide access to the court records to confirm if a document had been filed.
Of the four cases, the federal civil lawsuit has the potential do to the most damage to Pfizer, with its call for $7 billion in damages. A criminal and civil case are also pending on the state level, along with a federal criminal trial set to open Wednesday.
Pfizer treated 100 meningitis-infected children with an experimental antibiotic, Trovan, in the 1996 study. Another 100 children, who were control patients in the study, received an approved antibiotic, though families lawyers' have charged that the dose was lower than recommended.
Eleven children died - five of those on Trovan and six in the control group, while others suffered physical disabilities and brain damage. Pfizer has insisted its records show none of the deaths was linked to Trovan or substandard treatment, noting that the study showed a better survival rate for the patients on Trovan than those on the standard drug, and that mental damage and other serious disabilities are known meningitis after-effects.
Authorities in Kano state have blamed the Pfizer controversy for widespread suspicion of government public health policies, particularly the global effort to vaccinate children against polio.
Islamic leaders in largely Muslim Kano had seized on the Pfizer controversy as evidence of a U.S.-led conspiracy. Rumors that polio vaccines spread AIDS or infertility spurred Kano and another heavily Muslim state, Zamfara, to boycott a polio vaccination campaign four years ago.
Vaccination programs restarted in Nigeria in 2004, after an 11-month boycott. But the delay set back global eradication. The boycott was blamed for causing an outbreak that spread the disease across Africa and into the Middle East. "