Death Sentence for China Drug Chief

May 30, 2007
Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

In an effort to clamp down on corruption, China sentenced its former top drug regulator to death on Tuesday.

In an effort to clamp down on corruption, China sentenced its former top drug regulator to death on Tuesday.

Zheng Xiaoyu, who served as director of China’s State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) from 1997 to 2006, was convicted on several counts of bribery. According to Chinese newswire Xinhua, Xiaoyu accepted gifts totaling nearly $850,000 from eight unnamed pharmaceutical companies to approve their drugs.

"(Zheng's acts) greatly undermined the integrity of an official post and the efficiency of China's drug monitoring and supervision, endangered public life and health, and had a very negative social impact," Xinhua quoted the Beijing Municipal No. 1 Intermediate People’s Court as saying.

Much like the old Chinese proverb, this might be a case of killing the chicken to scare the monkey. The weighty sentence, says one anonymous insider, was delivered as a fear tactic-not because the drugs might have killed people. The Chinese SFDA is strictly in the business of approving drugs, while quality control is left to the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection, and Quarantine.

“This isn’t the first time an official has received the death penalty in China,” says J. Benjamin Bai, a principal at international law firm Jones Day. “This might be shocking to the Western world because in the United States, politicians don’t get their heads cut off because of corruption.” Bai admits, however, that executions aren’t the norm. Typically, high-ranking officials are forced to vacate their position or pay restitution.

The Chinese court said that manufacturers of the six drugs approved by Zheng had provided fake documentation when seeking approval. The Associated Press reported "one antibiotic approved by Zheng's agency killed at least 10 patients last year before it was taken off the market."

“Situations like these, where fake drugs are approved or poison makes it into pet products, are a huge deal in China,” Bai says. “This type of corruption is not acceptable in China and they are taking it very seriously.”