As per the indictment, from 2013 to 2014, Hung, former chairman of Board of Directors and general director of Việt Nam Pharma Company, ordered Vo Mạnh Cuong, director of H&C International Maritime Company, to purchase imported medicines reportedly manufactured by Canada’s Helix Pharmaceuticals Company and supply the drugs to Vietnamese hospitals. This included 9,300 boxes of H-Capita 500mg Caplet, a cancer treatment drug. The consignment was worth around VNĐ5.3 billion (US$230,000).
Hùng then ordered his staff to fake documents related to the drug and submit them to Drug Administration of Việt Nam, under the Ministry of Health. Việt Nam Pharma also faked receipts and payment procedures to acquire the drug import licence from the ministry.
According to the ministry’s assessment, 97 per cent of the imported batch consisted of low-quality capecitabine, a chemotherapy drug, of unknown origin and not permitted for treatment.
Hùng also committed a series of violations, including using the seal and signatures of two companies that were no longer operating legally in Việt Nam, and raising the price of the cancer drug, the indictment said.
“The defendant’s action was dangerous for society and violated State management activities. This behaviour needs strict punishment. However, the defendant reported the case to the health ministry so the drug batch could be sealed and consequences avoided, so the court decided to extenuate penalty,” the court said.
Seven other defendants, all former senior employees of Việt Nam Pharma, were handed between two and five years of imprisonment for smuggling and counterfeiting seals and materials of agencies and organisations.
The court also proposed clarifying the matter of the company giving VNĐ7.5 billion ($326,000) to doctors as commission so that the doctors would prescribe the specific medicines supplied by it.
Health Ministry on the defensive
Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc on Thursday asked the Ministry of Health to submit a report before August 31 on its responsibility in the case pertaining to the import of low-quality cancer drugs by Việt Nam Pharma.
Lawyers pointed out that the responsibility of Drug Administration of Việt Nam must also be investigated as the agency is in charge of checking and supervising pharmaceutical activities nationwide.
Nguyễn Văn Đức, a lawyer from the HCM City Bar Association, told the Người Lao Động (Labourers) newspaper that blame for importing fake cancer drugs lies with the Drug Administration, which approved the documents and granted import licence.
“Cancer patients spent a lot of money on these fake drugs, and may still lose their lives. The culprit has caused serious consequences and must be prosecuted for criminal liability,” he said.
On Thursday, the health ministry released a statement responding to media queries about the case. It said that after the court ruling, the ministry would impose strict punishment on violating units and individuals under its management without shielding anyone.
The ministry appreciates the efforts and responsibilities of investigative agencies and other authorities in bringing Việt Nam Pharma Company’s violations to light and working with the ministry to identify its violations, the statement said.
The ministry also proposed that authorised agencies impose stiff penalties on those spreading false, baseless information that tarnishes the reputation of the medical sector.