Pfizer sought corruption links to end Trovan case; WikiLeaks

By Alexandria Pešić

- Last updated on GMT

Pfizer hired investigators to expose corrupt behaviour of the former Nigerian attorney general to ‘pressure’ him to drop legal action against the contentious Trovan drug trial, according to a leaked US embassy cable.

The cable, released by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks,​ outlines details of the Nigerian state and federal authorities’ lawsuit against the world’s largest drug company over the trial of the oral antibiotic, trovafloxacin, during the 1996 meningitis epidemic in Kano, north of Nigeria.

The trial involved 100 children with meningitis, and allegedly led to the deaths of 11 children and rendered dozens more disabled, however Pfizer denies these charges.

Last year, Pfizer reached a $75m (€57m) settlement with Nigeria’s Kano government, including a $10m payout for legal fees, $30m to the Kano state government, and $35m for the affected trial participants and families.

Yet the cable suggests the drug major was reluctant to hand out the money agreed to settle the two cases – one criminal and one civil – brought by the Nigerian federal government.

The cable reports a meeting on 9 April 2009 between Pfizer's country manager, Enrico Liggeri, and US officials at the Abuja embassy, during which Liggeri claimed “Pfizer had hired investigators to uncover corruption links to federal attorney general, Michael Aondoakaa to expose him and put pressure on him to drop the federal case.”

Liggeri said Pfizer’s investigators handed over evidence of alleged corruption, but had “much more damaging information”​ on Aondoakaa that they refrained from passing on to the local media. The information was intended to be used to raise fears that additional negative articles being published.

Pfizer dismiss leaked claims

In a statement, Pfizer​ has strongly dismissed the leaked diplomatic cable as “simply preposterous” ​and denies “any wrongdoing or liability in connection with the 1996 study.”

Pfizer said that in 2009 it had resolved the Trovan cases brought by the Nigerian federal government and the Kano state, and had negotiated the settlement “in good faith and its conduct in reaching that agreement was proper.”

The ‘WikiLeaked’ cable highlights that Liggeri believes the lawsuits against Pfizer "were wholly political in nature,"​ as Médecins sans Frontières (MSF), “administered Trovan to other children [in the same hospital in Kano] during the 1996 meningitis epidemic and the Nigerian government has taken no action,” ​but MSF has vehemently denied using the antibiotic.

The ongoing lawsuit, said Liggeri, has had a “chilling effect”​ on international pharmaceutical companies, which according to him has irrevocably impacted on Nigeria’s attractiveness as a home for clinical trials. “When another outbreak occurs no company will come to Nigeria’s aid​,” he warned.

The cable claims that Pfizer’s own image has been damaged due to the ongoing case, though the drug maker considers Nigeria a major growth market for its products.

Pfizer, rather than give a lump sum payment to the Kano state government, wishes to set up a $35m trust fund for the trial participants, which would be regulated by a neutral third party, according to the cable.

The remaining $30m, said Pfizer, would be used to improve healthcare in the Kano state, with the possible rebuilding of Kano’s Infectious Disease Hospital where the trial was held.

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