It was hard to read the US judgement against the UK pharmaceuticals firm Glaxo Smith Kline without a deep sense of shame. The firm perpetrated the largest case of fraud in US healthcare history. That is quite an achievement, given the outrageous behaviour of other pharmaceuticals firms.
The firm illegally promoted antidepressants by paying off US doctors through lavish entertainment, free holidays disguised as conferences, and cash payments disguised as consulting fees. One Sales Rep described one the Glaxo products as the “happy, horny, skinny pill”. I know, it sounds like the wonder pill that every teenager needs. Glaxo tried to get doctors to write a prescription for every teen in America. They marketed their drugs by taking doctors on diving trips, golfing holidays, balloon rides, deep-sea fishing and tours of the Bacardi rum distillery. It was a "dope up a teen and get a free holiday" deal.
The fine might seem commensurate with the crime. The firm will have to pay over $3 billion. However, who is being punished here? This money will come out of the profits of the firm, which would have be distributed to shareholders in the form of dividends and tax revenues to the various government where Glaxo operates.
The only crime committed by the shareholders was to buy equity in a firm that was secretly buying off doctors to over-prescribe happy pills. I might be wrong, but I doubt that information was made available to the shareholders when they were purchasing their Glaxo stock. The shareholders didn't sanction this behaviour. That was an internal decision, presumably motivated by bonuses and generous remuneration packages.
The US government will receive the proceeds from the $3 billion fine. But it would have received a large chunk of that cash anyway. Absent this huge fine, the UK government would have received part of these proceeds in the form of taxation. Now that will not happen. Returning to the question, who was punished; UK taxpayers and hapless investors seems to be the answer.
Ultimately, this isn't the sort of punishment that deters bad behaviour. The sales reps have probably moved on to other firms. As for the Glaxo Management, perhaps the company sacrificed a few unwanted executives. But is there any reason to think that the company wouldn't pull a similar scam again? I don't think so.