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Pfizer Faces Criminal Charges in Nigeria Over Drug Trials

Nigerian government lawyers have filed criminal charges against the American drug firm Pfizer. The lawyers accuse Pfizer of carrying out illegal tests of drugs in Nigeria. Gilbert da Costa has more for VOA in this report from Abuja.

Nigeria has accused Pfizer of criminal misconduct in the trials of a meningitis drug in the northern city of Kano in 1996.

At the time, there was a meningitis epidemic in the city and the government accuses Pfizer of taking advantage of the epidemic to test an experimental drug without the authorization or full understanding of the families tested. Pfizer denies wrongdoing, but the government says the company's tests contributed to the deaths of some of the children and made others sick.

"The government believes there have been violations of law which constitute criminal offenses, and that's the basis of the criminal charges," said Babatunde Irukela, lead counsel for the Nigerian government. "There are 23 counts of them revolving around conduct before, through and after the clinical trials that occurred in Kano in 1996."

An undisclosed number of Pfizer officials in Nigeria are due to be formally charged when the case begins October 29. Irukela says the accused persons could face jail if convicted.

"The penalties are different. In some cases there are several months of imprisonment or a fine, in some of them it is up to nine years imprisonment and all kinds of different things," he added.

The New York-based drug company is also facing a multi-billion-dollar civil lawsuit by the Nigerian government over the disputed trials. The Nigerian government Wednesday re-filed the necessary court papers to permit the resumption of civil proceedings.

Pfizer maintains that it had approval for the drug trial, which it says helped to save lives.