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India pledges ‘appropriate action’ after completing cough syrup bribe probe

INDIA will take “appropriate action” after completing an investigation into a complaint that a drug regulator helped switch samples of cough syrup linked to the death of children in Gambia in return for a bribe, two officials said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) linked the syrups made by India’s Maiden Pharmaceuticals to the deaths of 70 children in 2022, though India’s government said subsequent tests at an Indian government laboratory showed the syrups were not toxic.

Maiden, whose factory is based in Haryana state, denies wrongdoing.

Reuters reported in June last year that a lawyer named Yashpal accused Haryana’s drug controller, Manmohan Taneja, of taking a bribe of 50 million rupees ($602,195) from Maiden to help switch the samples before they went for tests at the government laboratory. Taneja has denied the charges.

The investigator, Gagandeep Singh and Haryana FDA Commissioner Ashok Kumar Meena, told Reuters their superiors would decide on the “appropriate action” on the matter “as per law”, declining to share their findings.

“We are very much clear that if anyone has done anything wrong, we will take strict action,” Meena said. “There’s zero tolerance against corruption. If any wrong thing is found, action will be taken, whether it is Taneja or anyone else.”

Taneja did not respond to a call and a message seeking comment outside business hours. He told Reuters in October that the probe had been triggered by a “fake complaint from a fake person” and that “anyone can send any fake complaint against anyone”.

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Yashpal, who goes by one name, also did not respond to a call and a text message seeking comment.

Maiden founder Naresh Kumar Goyal told Reuters he was not aware of the status of the investigation. He earlier said his company neither switched the sample nor paid a bribe to Taneja.

Meena said the report would go to the level of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, whose office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

In his complaint, Yashpal did not say where he got the information, or provide evidence for his claim about the syrups made by Maiden. He told Reuters in June he had learned about the alleged bribe from at least two individuals in India’s pharmaceutical industry, including one within Maiden, but declined to identify them for fear of retribution.

Indian-made cough syrups have been linked to the deaths of at least 141 children in Gambia, Uzbekistan and Cameroon since 2022, hurting the image of the world’s largest drug-manufacturing country after the United States and China.