Feds: Google Boss Knew About Illegal Drugs Ads

Dennis Faas's picture

Last week Google was fined $500 million for carrying illegal advertising for Canadian pharmaceutical exporters. Now, the lawyer who led the probe has made the shocking claim that Google chief Larry Page explicitly knew about and ignored the advertisements.

Google's $500 million fine not only covered the profits it made from running the ads, but also the money the advertisers are estimated to have made from selling the drugs to US customers. Those sales are illegal because of Food & Drug Administration (FDA) restrictions on cross-border pharmaceutical sales, which don't go through normal licensing procedures and safety checks.

Lawyer: "Page Knew What Was Going On"

At the time, it seemed the only possible explanation for Google having paid such a huge amount was that it feared criminal prosecutions.

That's because the Justice Department investigation showed that for at least six years the company knew that running such ads would breach the law, but did so anyway. That raised serious questions about the judgment of those who made the decisions.

In a bombshell announcement, Peter Neronha -- the US attorney who headed up the government investigation into the ads -- says that Google's Chief Executive Office, Larry Page, knew that the advertising was breaching the law.

"We simply know it from the documents we reviewed, witnesses that we interviewed, that Larry Page knew what was going on," said Neronha in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. (Source: wsj.com)

Confirmation of Page's Involvement Unlikely to Emerge

With the legal proceedings now effectively at an end, those documents and witness statements will remain under wraps.

That may save Google's highest-profile executive from further embarrassment and raises questions over whether avoiding such embarrassment, or even personal legal issues, was one of the company's goals in paying the huge sum.

Neronha has also revealed more about the undercover investigation into the ads, originally sparked by a hunt for a fugitive in Mexico. He noted that Google claimed it had measures to stop illegal ads, including hiring independent firms to filter out sites that broke the rules. However, when undercover investigators tried to post ads from outside the US, Google staff helped them get round the controls. (Source: cnet.com)

Google has refused to elaborate on who knew what, saying the matter is in the past.

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