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Suwaiba Uba, one of the children tested with Trovan when she was three years old and now suffering physical disability and brain damage. GEORGE OSODI/AP/Press Association Images

Pfizer used 'dirty tricks' to avoid Nigerian payout: WikiLeaks cables

The cables reveal that the pharmaceutical giant hired private investigators to unearth evidence of corruption on a Nigerian official in order to halt a case about an alleged unauthorized drug trial.

US PHARMACEUTICAL GIANT Pfizer hired private investigators to find evidence of corruption concerning a Nigerian attorney general in an attempt to force him to drop a case over a drug trial involving children with meningitis, according to a diplomatic cable released by Wikileaks.

The Guardian reports that Pfizer was being sued by the Nigerian state over the experimental use of an anitibiotic called Trovan, which was used during an unprecedented outbreak of meningitis in Kano, northern Nigeria, in 1996. The case was settled last year.

However, leaked diplomatic cables reveal that the drug company’s country manager, Enrico Liggeri, met with US officials at the Abuja embassy on 9 April 2009, saying that the company did not want to pay out. The cable states:

According to Liggeri, Pfizer had hired investigators to uncover corruption links to federal attorney general Michael Aondoakaa to expose him and put pressure on him to drop the federal cases. He said Pfizer’s investigators were passing this information to local media.

It continues:

A series of damaging articles detailing Aondoakaa’s ‘alleged’ corruption ties were published in February and March. Liggeri contended that Pfizer had much more damaging information on Aondoakaa and that Aondoakaa’s cronies were pressuring him to drop the suit for fear of further negative articles.

Thousands fell ill during the Kano epidemic, and Pfizer’s doctors treated total of 200 children. Half were given Trovan and half with the best meningitis drug used in the US at the time, ceftriaxone. Five children died on Trovan and six on ceftriaxone.

However, it was later claimed that the company had not secured proper parental consent, and questions were raised about the documentation of the trial.

Pfizer maintains the trial was conducted properly and any deaths were the direct result of the meningitis itself. The company did not want to settle over the case “but had come to the conclusion that the $75m figure was reasonable because the suits had been ongoing for many years costing Pfizer more than $15m a year in legal and investigative fees”, according to the cable.

In a statement to the Guardian, Pfizer said:

Although Pfizer has not seen any documents from the US embassy in Nigeria regarding the federal government cases, the statements purportedly contained in such documents are completely false.