The Penalties for Political Corruption in China and the US


Zheng Xiaoyu meet Lester Crawford.

Lester Crawford is the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Zheng Xiaoyu is the former head of China’s equivalent of the FDA.

Both have been convicted of crimes committed while in office.

Earlier this week, Zheng was sentenced to death.

Earlier this year, Crawford was sentenced to three years probation.

Zheng was sentenced to death for allegedly pocketing bribes from drug makers seeking fast track approval.

Zheng allegedly took cash and gifts from eight companies, either personally or routed through his wife and son, for approving fake medicine.

Zheng was convicted of the charges after a ten-day closed door trial.

And sentenced to death.

It was a political trial and a political sentence that came on the heels of news stories that threatened China’s export-driven economy.

What was concerning China’s political leadership?

Was it the bribery?

Was it the babies that died of malnutrition in Anhui province in 2004 after they were fed fake milk powder with no nutritional value?

Was it the antibiotic approved by the food and drug agency during Zheng’s tenure that killed at least 10 patients in 2006 before it was taken off the market?

No, no, and no.

It was the dead dogs and cats in the United States that were dying from contaminated pet food from China.

It was the exported contaminated toothpaste that contained a chemical used in antifreeze.

It was the Chinese medical products linked to deaths in Panama.

The news of exports from China killing abroad threatened the foundations of the Chinese economy.

And someone had to pay the price.

That would be Zheng Xiaoyu.

What message does our system send when the former head of our FDA gets his industry ties caught in the Justice Department’s grinder?

No jail.

Three years probation.

$90,000 fine.

Nice paying job at a pharma consulting firm.

Even a keynote address at Harvard University later this year on the topic of FDA compliance.

That of course would be the case of former FDA chief Lester Crawford.

It wasn’t his corporate ideology that got former Crawford in trouble last year.

It was trying to hide the extent of his corporate connections.

In October 2007, Crawford pled guilty to charges that he hid his ownership in stock in food and drug companies that the FDA regulates. He was sentenced earlier this year to three years probation and fined $90,000.

For the past year or so, Crawford has worked at a consulting firm, Policy Directions.

And he’s scheduled to appear as a keynote speaker later this year at the FDA Regulatory and Compliance Symposium at Harvard University.

Dr. Steve Nissen, for one, is troubled by the extent of the pharmaceutical industry’s ties to federal cops on the corporate crime beat.

Nissen is chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation.

He is concerned about the "imbalance of power between the FDA and industry."

"When drug studies reveal toxicity or lack of efficacy, the FDA is not permitted to release the results and the findings are often not published, thereby denying patients and physicians access to vitally important safety information," Nissen said in little reported comments last year at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

The reason?

Conflicts of interest at the highest levels of the FDA.

The entire FDA budget for drug regulation is about $500 million and relies extensively on pharmaceutical industry user fees, Dr. Nissen said.

As a result, the FDA is financially indebted to the companies it must regulate.

Nissen pointed to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who was sitting right next to him at the National Press Club event.

Gottlieb was deputy FDA commissioner at the time. He later resigned to join the corporate funded American Enterprise Institute.

"For years, we had an interim FDA Commissioner, Lester Crawford, who shortly after confirmation, abruptly resigns, apparently because he and his wife owned stock in regulated companies," he says.

"Then the administration appointed Andrew Von Eschenbach as interim commissioner, creating another conflict," Dr. Nissen says. "In his role as director of the National Cancer Institute, Von Eschenbach must seek FDA approval for human testing or approval of new cancer drugs, an obvious conflict."

"Even worse, the administration appointed Scott Gottlieb as deputy commissioner," Dr. Nissen says. "He came to this job with no regulatory experience, directly from Wall Street, where he served as a biotech analyst and stock promoter. Between them, Drs. Von Eschenbach and Gottlieb have whined incessantly about the need to speed drug development. So while the American people worry about the safety of drugs, the top FDA leadership tells us we need faster drug approval."

When asked about his industry connections, Gottlieb said that he complied with all legal requirements.

But that wasn’t Nissen’s point.

It’s legal in the United States for the pharmaceutical companies to take over the FDA.

No death penalty needed.

CORPORATE CRIME REPORTER is located in Washington, DC. They can be reached through their website


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