WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former lawyer for pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline Plc has been indicted for lying and obstructing an investigation into the company's promotion of an anti-depressant drug, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday.
The lawyer, Lauren Stevens, was indicted on four counts of making false statements, one count of obstruction of justice and one count of falsifying and concealing documents related to Glaxo's promotion of the drug for weight loss, which had not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
"Where the facts and law allow, the Justice Department will pursue individuals responsible for illegal conduct just as vigorously as we pursue corporations," said Tony West, head of the Justice Department's civil division.
The Justice Department did not name the drug or Glaxo, but the company confirmed she had worked in its legal department but retired. A legal directory described Stevens as a Glaxo vice president and associate general counsel.
A lawyer for Stevens was not immediately available for a comment.
The case emerged after the FDA sought information from Glaxo in 2002 about its promotion of the drug.
A Glaxo spokeswoman declined to comment about any FDA probe of marketing of its drug for an unapproved use.
Such charges against corporate executives in these kinds of instances are rare. Justice Department officials could not immediately recall a similar case in recent years.
Stevens knew the company had sponsored programs to promote the drug for unapproved uses, including payments to doctors to give hundreds of talks to other doctors, according to the indictment.
The indictment also accused Stevens of withholding slides that were used by doctors who were paid by Glaxo to promote the drug and that she prepared a memorandum about the benefits and risks of providing the information to the FDA.
The obstruction charges carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, while each false statements charge has a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; editing by Andre Grenon)