On May 10, Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, agreed to pay $600 million in fines and other payments relating to fraudulent branding of the narcotic painkiller. The company president, top lawyer, and former medical director pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of misbranding the drug and have agreed to pay a total of $34.5 million in fines. Over $1 billion of OxyContin was sold per year under misleading claims that a time-release formulation made the drug less addictive that faster-acting counterparts. The drug gained popularity with recreational drug users, and could be chewed, crushed and snorted, or injected with heroin-like effects. Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani’s law firm was hired to represent Purdue Pharma in May 2002. Giuliani had ties to Asa Hutchinson, who was an administrator at the Drug Enforcement Agency, and met with the DEA privately to negotiate Purdue Pharma penalties.
Source: New York Times and Washington Post
A June 2007 report by the Foreign Affairs Council, a nonpartisan group of 11 organizations concerned with diplomatic readiness, states that 1,100 new foreign service officers need to be hired by the State Department. These numbers are in spite of the 1,069 officers hired between 2001 and 2005, a resource that was quickly depleted by emerging situations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report blamed declining morale for the staff shortage, citing the 18.6 percent base pay cut that junior and mid-level officers posted to an overseas assignment must take and 750 perilous positions in which officers are separated from their families for a year, making frequent moves in dangerous regions.
Source: Foreign Affairs Council Task Force Report, June 2007
On June 4, the Nigerian government filed a $7 billion suit against Pfizer, the world’s largest drug company, for its alleged part in the deaths and injuries of Nigerian children. During a 1996 meningitis outbreak in Kano, 200 children were treated with an unapproved antibiotic, Trovan, as part of a clinical trial. Officials charge that the drug resulted in the death of some of the children, leaving others blind, deaf, paralyzed, or brain damaged. “The plaintiff contends that the defendant never obtained approval of the relevant regulatory agencies . . . nor did the defendant seek or receive approval to conduct any clinical trial at any time before their illegal conduct,” Nigeria contends in court documents. Pfizer denies the allegations and claims it acted ethically, stating that the drug was in late-phase development and had been evaluated in 5,000 patients. The Washington Post obtained internal Pfizer records showing five children dying after being treated by Trovan, but also shows six children dying after taking a comparison drug used in the trial. Pfizer discontinued the drug in 2003, for “marketing reasons.”
In 1995, Bosnian Serb forces slaughtered more than 8,000 Muslim men and boys who had sought refuge in a supposed UN safe area. The killings, known as the Srebrenica massacre, are the worst Europe has seen since World War II. Families of the victims filed suit against the United Nations and the Netherlands on June 4. The families charge the UN and the Dutch with denying air support which could have contained Bosnian Serb forces and prevented the massacre. Lawyers for the families say the Netherlands faults the UN, claiming air support was not authorized although public documents show it was. Lawyers claim the Dutch worked to reverse the decision out of fear their soldiers would be hit by friendly fire. The Dutch government denies accountability and has refused to compensate victims’ families. The UN, which has publicly apologized but failed to respond to families, claims it is immune from legal action.
Two American ex-employees of First Kuwaiti General Trading and Contracting Co., which is currently building the US Embassy in Baghdad, have accused the company of human trafficking and mistreatment of workers. John Owens, one of the former employees, told prosecutors that West African and Pakistani workers were duped into believing they were hired for work in Dubai, and were unwillingly sent to Iraq to work on the embassy. Once there, their passports were taken and they were unable to leave the country. Owens said he witnessed them boarding First Kuwaiti charter flights with boarding passes labeled for Dubai and said he saw a safe which held hundreds of passports that had been stripped from workers. Rory Mayberry, the other former employee making allegations, said he actually received one of the mislabeled boarding passes while knowing he was bound for Baghdad. “It was the first sign something was a bit off with the company,” Mayberry said. First Kuwaiti has already been visited by State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard in September 2006 for similar charges, but Krongard reported no evidence of misconduct. Federal prosecutors have opened a new human trafficking investigation.
Source: Wall Street Journal
Zheng Xiaoyu, ex-commissioner of China’s Food and Drug Administration, was sentenced to death on May 22 after pleading guilty to corruption and accepting bribes to issue drug production licenses. China has been subject to increased scrutiny since the pet food recalls earlier this year, in addition to exporting antifreeze laced toothpaste this past May and cough syrup that killed 100 people in Latin America in 2006. Domestically, China administered phony or tainted medications to its citizens, resulting in the deaths of at least 17 people and the illness of at least 80. Last year the US FDA blocked twice as many shipments from China as from all other countries in the world combined. Many of these shipments are foods officially labeled as “filthy” which smell rotten or are obviously contaminated. Others, typically seafood shipments, have been tested and found to be contaminated with antibiotic and antifungal residues. Over the last year, China has increased its exports to the US by 20 percent. The US FDA inspects one percent of all food that crosses the border and tests half of one percent.
Source: New York Times and National Public Radio
On Monday, June 4, the Federal Trade Commission moved to block the proposed merger of Whole Foods Market and Wild Oats Markets, two of the country’s largest premium natural and organic supermarkets. The FTC contends that Whole Foods’s $565 million acquisition of Wild Oats would create a near monopoly in the natural and organic food sector. Jeffrey Schmidt, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition, said, “If Whole Foods is allowed to devour Wild Oats, it will mean higher prices, reduced quality, and fewer choices for consumers.” Stephen Calkins, a law professor at Wayne State University and former FTC general counsel, said that the complaint was reminiscent of a successful effort by the agency in 1997 to thwart a merger of Staples and Office Depot. While the stores argued that office products were widely available at other stores, the FTC said that prices at both stores depended on the proximity of other office superstores. “In terms of Whole Foods,” Calkins said, “the single most important question will be: Are prices higher when the other store is not present?” Executives at Whole Foods said they were disappointed with the FTC’s decision to stop the merger and intended to challenge the commission’s action vigorously.
Source: New York Times
On Sunday, May 27, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad won 97.6 percent of the vote in a national referendum that won him a second seven-year term in office. The 41-year-old president was the only person allowed to put his name forward in the run-up to the referendum, which was boycotted by the opposition and widely regarded as a formality. “This great consensus shows the political maturity of Syria and the brilliance of our democracy and multi-party system,” Interior Minister Bassam Abdel Majeed said at a news conference, declaring the results. “There has been some repetition of votes but we caught them by reviewing the voting lists,” Majeed said in response to a question about the possibility of vote-tampering. The US denounced the election, citing that the Syrian people were not offered any choice between candidates.
Fox News Channel apologized on-air on June 5 for running footage of House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers of Michigan while reporting on the indictment of Rep. William J. Jefferson on bribery charges. Both congressmen are black. Fox blamed the snafu on a 22-year-old production assistant, who mistakenly grabbed the wrong videotape. “Fox News has a history of inappropriate on-air mistakes that are neither fair, nor balanced,” Conyers said on June 5. “This type of disrespect for people of color should no longer be tolerated. I am personally offended by the network’s complete disregard for accuracy in reporting and lackluster on-air apology.” Fox was moved to air a second apology a day later after Conyers criticized the network for broadcasting a tepid and nonspecific apology which did not acknowledge that he was the misidentified legislator. Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum explained to viewers on June 6: “We regret this mistake. We in no way meant to suggest that there was any connection between the Jefferson indictment and Congressman Conyers. We have extended our apology privately to the congressman and we do so here as well.”
Source: Associated Press