Doctors claim patients suffered side-effects, but company’s offshore base prevents UK regulator from intervening
A parliamentary commission in the remote and impoverished post-Soviet state of Kyrgyzstan is examining claims that a British pharmaceutical company has supplied it with poor-quality drugs.
Dialysis patients were switched this year to a cheap new drug, Repretin, which they were assured came from a British pharmaceutical firm. According to local doctors, they began to complain of unpleasant side-effects.
Evidence obtained by the Guardian shows that the company, Rotapharm Ltd, is not regulated by any British medical authority, but benefits from loopholes in UK law and the existence of the secretive UK offshore industry.
It advertises itself on its website as “a British pharmaceutical company created with the aim to improve people’s health … established in 2005 as a British generic pharmaceutical company by pharmaceutical professionals”. It is said to have its headquarters in Saffron Walden, Essex. The firm has been successfully selling its drugs in a number ofvarious former Soviet republics, including Moldova and Turkmenistan, and in Romania.
Rotapharm is, in fact, owned by a Belarussian businessman living in Turkey, has no British employees, was set up offshore in the British Virgin Islands and buys its supply of the dialysis drug Repretin from a manufacturer in Egypt. The company is allowed to advertise itself as British because it maintains a British-registered company, with a small office on UK territory. British regulators are powerless to intervene.
Dr Dinara Aiypova, a kidney specialist in the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, said: “Rotapharm registered here in 2009. It declared itself to be a British company and boasted of European quality.”
Virtually all dialysis centres switched from a Roche product, NeoRecormon, to Rotapharm’s cheaper drug, she said. “After the transfer of patients on dialysis to Repretin, they began to feel bad. This affected blood pressure, decreased haemoglobin, etc. I did some comparisons with other erythropoietins. I saw the difference and reported at a conference.”
A campaigning MP in Kyrgyzstan, Shirin Aitmatova, took up the case, but the health ministry continued to buy Repretin through a state tender, she said, “despite the numerous complaints of the patients who are on dialysis that they were experiencing severe side-effects”.
Aitmatova has been leading the calls for an investigation into the award of the contract and claims that doctors were given gifts as inducements by the company to prescribe Repretin and other Rotapharm drugs. A parliamentary commission has begun looking into the allegations.
Aiypova says protesters were threatened with legal action by Rotapharm, unless they retracted.
Repretin is a version of the generic drug epoetin, known as EPO, which the disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong recently admitted to taking as a performance enhancer. It is a hormone that boosts the production of red blood cells and is used to help kidney dialysis patients.
Rotapharm Ltd and a sister company, World Medicine, owned by Belarussian citizen Raushan Tahiyeu, were set up anonymously in 2005 in the British Virgin Islands. These offshore entities, under the UK-sponsored secrecy regime for which the BVI is notorious, reveal no owners, publish no accounts and pay no taxes.
Two parallel firms with identical names were legally registered in the UK at Companies House, originally with concealed ownership and sham nominee directors with addresses in the Caribbean micro-state of St Kitts and Nevis. Later, they were re-registered with Tahiyeu named as owner.
The Rotapharm company in the UK has a small office in Essex. It declares small amounts of business in its annual accounts, which are not audited, and pays small sums of British tax.
But during a visit by the Guardian, this “international headquarters” seemed to have no employees. Behind the locked door and the Rotapharm sign, the only person in residence was the listed company secretary, Zafer Karaman, who lives locally. He refused to answer any questions about Rotapharm.
Britain’s drugs regulator, the MHRA, says it cannot intervene. “If [Repretin] is indeed licensed in the respective eastern European countries it is sold in, then those countries’ regulatory bodies have made a decision that the product is acceptable, safe, effective and manufactured to a good standard. As such the MHRA would have no cause to, or precedent to take any action against the company.”
It was put to Tahiyeu that his pharmaceutical business was not genuinely British. His lawyer said: “You do not have an accurate understanding of our business. Rotapharm is registered and actively operates in the jurisdiction.” He otherwise declined to comment on the allegations or to explain the purpose of the BVI offshore entities.
In its recent series Offshore Secrets the Guardian, in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in Washington DC, exposed the way British property speculators and Russian businessmen were hiding their activities behind front companies in the BVI, and sham nominee directors. The business department promised an investigation.
In the coming years, Latin America will grow at three times
Smartly dressed ex-Goldman central banker not afraid of clashes with finance bosses
Likened in his native Canada to a character from hit TV show Mad Men, Mark Carney is certainly clipped and groomed like a 1950s Hollywood star. Sporty – he was a netminder for Harvard’s ice hockey team – and dapper, he could be Tony Curtis, though with a little more menace behind the wide smile.
As far as central bankers go, the 47‑year‑old more than stands out from the generally more rotund suits that populate the conference circuit.
Critics say he wears his Oxford doctorate on his sleeve and is less than self-effacing. They speculate that his 13 years at Goldman Sachs, which took him to London, Tokyo, New York and Toronto, inspired his smart dress sense and air of authority. Yet he is not brash, preferring to make few public comments and he rarely agrees to interviews. When he did talk about the speculation linking him to the Bank of England job, he consistently ruled himself out. If he does break cover it is to make considered comments that fail to register on the media Richter scale. Goldman Sachs has a way of giving its senior executives this quiet authority.
But he made the headlines in the financial press last year when he came under attack from JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon during a meeting of then G20 Financial Stability Board, set up to tame the banks in the aftermath of the financial crisis. It was the kind of moment that endeared him to the Bank of England governor Sir Mervyn King, who is understood to have championed Carney’s candidacy, and in turn chancellor George Osborne, who controversially rejected a clutch of home-grown talent to favour the Canadian. Dimon attacked Carney in a closed session for backing Basel III – the third global regulatory effort in around two decades – which demands that the world’s largest banks carry extra reserves to prevent governments needing to bail them out again. The attack was leaked and Carney’s credentials as defender of sound money was sealed.
He could have further clashes inside Threadneedle Street, though. At a conference to discuss financial regulation, he received a forceful broadside from Andy Haldane, the Bank’s executive director of financial stability. Haldane accused Carney and others of adopting highly complex rules to keep bankers in check when they ought to simplify banking.
But Carney is concerned to balance the needs of banks and the economy with a sophisticated mix of rules. He told Euromoney magazine last month: “The interests of the private financial community should be absolutely aligned with those of the regulatory community to grow the real economy in a sustainable way. And the more enlightened members of the financial community have that perspective.”
Carney spent his first six years in Canada’s Northwest Territories before moving with his parents, a university professor and a school teacher, and two brothers to Edmonton. In high school, he began his ice hockey career which culminated in winning the US national championship at Harvard, where he gained his first degree in economics. He then went to Oxford, where he got his master’s.
Goldman Sachs followed. While in London he met his British-born wife, Diana, an economist specialising in developing-world issues and a star player on the Oxford field hockey team. He went back to Oxford to complete his PhD and then rejoined the firm before being appointed deputy governor of the Bank of Canada in 2003. He left in November 2004 for a senior position in Canada’s national finance department that included being the country’s G7 deputy.
If nations were able to go bankrupt like companies it would benefit everyone, especially society’s poorest
Colonialism is back. Well, at least according to leading politicians of the two most famous debtor nations. Commenting on the EU’s inability to deliver its end of the bargain despite the savage spending cuts Greece had delivered, Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the opposition Syriza party, said last week that his country was becoming a “debt colony”. A couple of days later, Hernán Lorenzino, Argentina’s economy minister, used the term “judicial colonialism” to denounce the US court ruling that his country has to pay in full a group of “vulture funds” that had held out from the debt restructuring that followed the country’s 2002 default.
While their language was deliberately incendiary, these two politicians were making extremely important points. Tsipras was asking why most burdens of
Chance of commercial development in area put at 80% by independent consultancy
Falklands exploration group Desire Petroleum – one of four UK companies drilling for oil around the islands – has unveiled an optimistic update on its operations in the north Falklands basin.
Desire said a report into its Sea Lion complex in the north Falklands by Senergy, an independent consultancy, put the chance of commercial development at 80% – although the figure for its Liz gas condensate discovery was just 25%.
Desire now has 41 oil prospects and four gas prospects. Chairman Stephen Phipps said: “We are delighted that this [report] confirms our view that the Desire licences have excellent remaining exploration potential … Our immediate priority will be to promote our extensive prospect inventory and to attract further investment into our licences.”
Desire’s shares climbed 1.2% to 20.25p on the news although closed unchanged.
Analyst Sam Wahab, at Seymour Pierce, who rates the shares a buy with a target price of 45p, said: “Desire requires considerable funding to prove up these assets. Whilst the north Falkland basin has been validated to a certain extent by Premier Oil’s farm in the Sea Lion field this year, significant appraisal activity will be required to validate the region.”
Governments in tense talks over court ruling that would allow vulture fund to sell frigate unless Argentina settles $370m debt
Crew members on the Argentinian naval ship ARA Libertad, which has been impounded in the port of Tema in Ghana, have been ordered to fly home as the diplomatic crisis over the vessel’s future looks set to intensify.
The 281 crew members – from Brazil, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, Suriname, Venezuela, Uruguay and Chile, as well as Argentina – will return to Buenos Aires on a chartered Air France flight on Wednesday, while the most senior officers and a skeleton crew will remain on board.
Meanwhile, the Argentinian and Ghanaian governments are holding talks to attempt to circumvent a court ruling that gives a US-based vulture fund, NML Capital, the right to sell the 50-year-old frigate unless Argentina settles a $370m (£231m) debt.
Argentina has also held talks with the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, over the conduct of the west African country.
“Meetings between these south American delegations and [the Ghanaian] government are continuing as we speak,” said a source. “We are not talking about interfering with the ruling of the court, but there may be another solution. We will continue talking to the Argentinians and others until we resolve this matter.”
The talks come three weeks after the Libertad, a three-masted training vessel, was detained on arrival in Ghana by order of the country’s high court. Although the ship is forbidden to leave Tema, crew members have been free to leave the vessel, making frequent trips to the nearby capital, Accra.
A delegation from Argentina’s embassy in Nigeria was understood to be holding talks with officials from the Ghanaian ministry of foreign affairs and attorney general’s office. Officials from Chile, which has 15 naval officers on board the Libertad, confirmed that its naval attaché in London, Ronald McIntyre, was also holding talks with Ghana in an attempt to secure the ship’s release.
“The naval officers have been evacuated but the vessel is still in the port,” said Kumi Adjei-Sam, a spokesman for the Ghana ports and harbour authority. “It is causing us a lot of disruption and occupying one of our very busy berths. We need the space back – the order to detain the vessel came from the military and unless we receive a court order to release it soon, we will have to take the matter up with the military authorities.”
The order to evacuate the vessel is the latest in a series of defiant moves by the Argentinian government, which has said it refuses to honour judgments in favour of NML Capital.
NML, which is backed by the US billionaire Paul Singer and has a reputation for buying up sovereign debt, is suing Argentina for failing to pay out on bonds it bought from the heavily indebted Argentinian government in 2000, one year before the country’s $100bn sovereign default saw most of its debt restructured.
NML says it will not release the Libertad unless Argentina pays at least $20m of the $370m it is owed. Earlier this month Ghana’s high court backed the fund’s bid to detain the vessel, ruling that the legal immunity usually enjoyed by warships had been waived by Argentina when it entered into the bond swaps. NML has obtained more than $1.6bn worth of judgments against the country in courts in the US and England, and has made numerous efforts to seize Argentinian assets in an attempt to obtain payment.
But Argentina has repeatedly stated its refusal to pay NML, describing the legal bid as a “hoax staged by unscrupulous financiers”.
“All the expenses and damages resulting from the illegal detention of the frigate Libertad will form part of the demand Argentina will present before international organisations,” said the Argentinian foreign ministry.
Last week Argentina removed the navy chief, Carlos Alberto Paz, over the incident, and suspended two other senior naval officials, saying it was launching an inquiry into why the Libertad was allowed to stop in Ghana given the likelihood that NML would bring court proceedings in the country.
Dilma Rousseff at odds with prime minister, but he backs Brazil’s campaign to join UN security council
Brazil’s president made a timely, though probably innocent, intervention during Britain’s party political conference season when she hailed the importance of stimulating economic growth.
President Dilma Rousseff, a former Marxist, said it was important to stimulate the economy during a downturn.
Standing next to David Cameron, who is pushing an austerity programme in the UK, she delivered a speech at the presidential palace in Brasilia that could gave been written by the Labour party.
She said: “I stressed the importance of expanding efforts with a view to improving the conditions that will prove conducive to a recovery of the international economy, not only as regards developed countries but also as regards emerging countries,” said the socialist president.
“I have told the prime minister that Brazil has done its share in efforts to improve the recovery of the world economy by means of stimuli to jobs and growth.”
The president lavished praise on Cameron for his successful visit to Brazil, saying she was impressed that he visited all three main cities – São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia.
Cameron responded by supporting Brazil’s campaign to have a permanent seat on the UN security council. He said: “As Brazil takes its place on the global stage, so it’s case for permanent membership of the UN security council becomes ever stronger. We support Brazilian membership.
“We won’t always agree about every issue, but what’s important is that we have open and honest conversations about the difficult issues and form practical partnerships to get things done together.”
Cameron ended his trip to Brazil by launching a treaty to encourage the production of more Anglo-Brazilian blockbuster films.
Speaking at his press conference with Rousseff, Cameron said he wanted to see more productions of films such as the James Bond adventure Moonraker that was shot in Rio.
Cameron, who claims to be a big Bond fan, said: “In film [we have agreed] a new film co-production treaty which will offer incentives for our budding film makers to work together and make a new generation of blockbusters with those unforgettable moments like Bond hanging over Sugar Loaf Mountain.”
The treaty, signed by the trade minister Lord Green and the Brazilian culture minister Antonio Patriota, was one of 10 treaties signed during his visit to Brasilia.
Oil can no longer blind Venezuelans to their leader’s failure. The flaws in Chávez’s 21st-century socialism are all too clear
As Venezuelans get ready to head to the polls for the most closely fought presidential election of the past 14 years, one question is at the forefront of everyone’s mind: does Hugo Chávez still have it? By “it”, I