CSL boss quizzed on cartel
Outgoing CSL boss Brian McNamee, one of Australia's most respected CEOs who turned the sleepy government-owned vaccines group into a global healthcare giant, has appeared before lawyers to answer questions about the company's alleged involvement in an international cartel that fixed the prices of life-saving blood plasma.
Dr McNamee was deposed last week by class-action lawyers representing a handful of American hospitals, BusinessDay has learnt, where he was asked about details of CSL's operations in the US and its supply and pricing of plasma for international markets.
The depositions, understood to have been taken under oath, come just two months before Dr McNamee is due to step down from his role at CSL after serving nearly a quarter of a century as the healthcare company's boss.
It is believed four other senior CSL executives will be deposed by lawyers, or have done so already, joining the long-serving Dr McNamee under the spotlight as US class action lawyers circle one of Australia's biggest companies.
CSL also had a chance to depose the hospitals who are a part of the legal case.
The depositions spring from accusations, first aired in May 2009 by the powerful US Federal Trade Commission, that CSL and its competitors in the blood plasma industry shared information with rivals, signalled strategic intentions and deliberately cut supply to maximise plasma prices.
As part of its ruling over CSL's proposed $US3.1 billion takeover of US-based Talecris Biotherapeutics - which was ultimately blocked on competition grounds - the antitrust regulator argued the blood plasma industry operated as a "tight oligopoly".
Nowhere in the FTC ruling did it name any wrongdoing by Dr McNamee or any of his executives.
The accusations were jumped on by US lawyers, who quickly attracted 19 hospitals to join in a class-action lawsuit against CSL. Institutions such as the Mayo Clinic, one of America's most prestigious hospital groups and a popular respite for the rich and famous, was among dozens who signed up, claiming CSL had allegedly engaged in a conspiracy that put lives at risk as blood plasma supply was deliberately constrained.
However, many hospitals later dropped out of the suit, including the Mayo Clinic, with only a handful remaining.
There are now three plaintiffs in the action: University of Utah, the Comprehensive Blood & Cancer Centre in California and Hospital De Damas in Puerto Rico.
Based on the evidence of Dr McNamee and other CSL executives, the US lawyers will decide if there is enough to sustain a class action suit. It is understood this decision will be made by June or July.
A spokeswoman for CSL confirmed several CSL senior executives were deposed last week by the plaintiffs' lawyers. She confirmed CSL's lawyers were also undertaking depositions of the plaintiffs' witnesses in the US and Puerto Rico.
CSL has consistently said the claims are baseless and that it intends to vigorously defend the civil action.
Dr McNamee will leave CSL in July after guiding the company for 23 years, taking it from a government-backed agency through its public float and tapping into international markets to become a $29 billion company.
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