WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is investigating claims that major drug and medical device companies doing business in Iraq knew that the free medicines and supplies they gave the government to win business there would be used to underwrite terrorist attacks on American troops.
In a regulatory filing last week, AstraZeneca, a drugmaker based in Britain, disclosed that it had “received an inquiry from the U.S. Department of Justice in connection with an anti-corruption investigation relating to activities in Iraq.”
The filing said the inquiry was related to a lawsuit filed last year in federal court that accused five companies of winning contracts to sell their products to the Iraqi Ministry of Health with the understanding that they also provide additional medical supplies and medicines for free. The five companies are General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Roche Holding A.G. and AstraZeneca.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of members of the American military who were injured or killed in attacks from 2005 to 2009, at the height of the Iraq war.
At the time, the health ministry was controlled by followers of Moktada al-Sadr, a firebrand cleric and the leader of the Mahdi Army, whose death squads against Iraqi Sunnis brought the country to the brink of civil war. The lawsuit claims that lieutenants of Mr. Sadr, who was once seen as very close to Iran but has since refashioned himself into an Iraqi nationalist, sold the samples on Iraq’s black market to fund their attacks on American forces.
“As alleged by more than 300 Americans, Iranian-backed terrorists have used corruption at the Iraqi health ministry to help fund their terrorist operations in Iraq since at least 2004,” Ryan Sparacino, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement on Tuesday.
Michele Meixell, an AstraZeneca spokeswoman, declined to comment.
In a court filing in April, the defendants in the lawsuit said the United States government encouraged them to do business with the government of Iraq.
“The United States expressly encouraged companies to sell and to donate to the ministry millions of dollars’ worth of medicines and medical supplies,” the defendants’ filing states.