The Guardian, September 17, 2000
Portugal: Drugs scandal whistleblower stabbed again
A drugs industry insider turned whistleblower, who claims to have proof that multinational companies are 'bribing' thousands of doctors to prescribe their products, has narrowly escaped an apparent attempt on his life.
Alfredo Pequito, a former employee of the German pharmaceuticals giant Bayer, needed 70 stitches after being stabbed by a man who scaled the back wall of the house in Lisbon last week where he is under armed police guard.
The attack comes just days after Pequito told a national newspaper in Portugal, where he worked for the German firm, that he had the names of nearly 2,500 Portuguese doctors who have been induced with gifts including cash and travel vouchers to prescribe Bayer drugs.
The attack on Pequito is the latest twist to in a saga dubbed 'Bayergate' by the Portuguese media, in which leading international drugs companies have also been accused of offering gold sovereigns and expensive dinner sets to doctors who prescribed their drugs.
Portuguese authorities have been investigating 300 cases of suspected corruption in which doctors are said to have prescribed unusually large quantities of certain drugs manufactured by some of the world's largest drug corporations. Investigators reportedly believe that as many as 17 major drugs com panies could be involved. In one case, 20 doctors, sales reps and drug company officials are to go on trial after the doctors were accused of receiving money, petrol vouchers and computer equipment from the drugs manufacturers.
Pequito has been under official police protection since he first made allegations three years ago. However, he was the subject of another knife attack three months ago, hours before he was due to testify against his former employers. In another incident, he says he was approached by a man who drew an unloaded revolver and pressed it against his head before pulling the trigger four times. 'Next time it is for real,' he was told. His family, who are under police guard, also appear to have been targeted. A car is alleged to have tried to run Pequito's wife off the road.
Pequito's lawyers have criticised the apparent failure of the police to protect him and his family, as it was claimed that there was a £1.5 million price on his head. But Luis Patrao, of the Internal Affairs Ministry, said: 'Only the Prime Minister and the President have tighter security than Alfredo Pequito.'
Bayer has denied allegations made in court that doctors were offered 50,000 escudos (about £150) to prescribe Nimotop, which helps repair ruptured aneurysms, but admits offering a hospital 2,000 stethoscopes in exchange for their 'co-operation' in a new drug trial.
Critics say that corruption of doctors by the pharmaceutical industry is becoming increasingly widespread but companies are taking greater care to cover their tracks. 'Written documentation of abuses is now hard to come by. It is done verbally now, and there is no written proof,' Alvaro Rana, a leading trade unionist and himself a former drugs rep, told O Publico newspaper. 'I've worked for seven multinationals. Bayer has been caught out. The others do exactly the same.'
Eduardo Gonçalves in Lisbon