Roche versus Adams
A journalist recently told me about the book "Roche versus Adams," published in 1984, and I managed to find a used copy through Amazon. Now, the only remaining copy for sale costs $85.
In the seventies, Stanley Adams, a Roche employee, handed over documents to the European Economic Community, detailing how the company kept the price of vitamins high with the explicit collusion of its supposed rivals. But an EEC bungle identified Adams.
Roche decided to prosecute and he was imprisoned under tough Swiss commercial secrecy laws. His wife then committed suicide.
Twenty years later, Roche was at it again - marshalling a price-fixing cartel in exactly the same product. It was fined more than $500m by US and EU competition regulators.
But the story doesn't end there. Adams wrote the book "Roche versus Adams." But that also wasn't the end of the story. After having gone through the most horrendous experiences, he was convicted of attempted murder.
And, then Roche was convicted.
Blowing the final whistle
As Brussels blasts the drug giants, the man who took on Roche and was jailed for it talks to Nick Mathiason
Sunday November 25, 2001
Never has the European Commission seen such a serious example of concerted price-fixing between giant corporations.
Usually timid, the Commission last week let rip. Some of the world's biggest drug companies, including giant Swiss pharma, Roche, were fined a record £523 million.
Mario Monti, the European Commission's competition director-general, said that 13 companies illegally colluded to raise the price of vitamin pills and vitamins added to foodstuffs. He added that the cartel could be dubbed 'Vitamin Inc' and was the most damaging case the commission had ever investigated, as it continued throughout the entire Nineties and involved substances vital for healthy living.
To Stanley Adams, Monti's ruling came as no surprise. He's seen it all before. The 74-year-old blew the whistle on Roche nearly 30 years ago. It was Adams who handed over documents to the European Economic Community, as it was then, detailing how Roche kept the price of vitamins high with the explicit collusion of its supposed rivals. Some things never change.
Adams said he would help the EEC with its investigation in return for anonymity. But the EEC bungled badly. It allowed a Roche official to photocopy some of the incriminating documents.
The documents came from Adams's office. They had his signature on them. He was sunk. The Swiss authorities arrested him and called him a spy. Adams's wife was told that he faced a 20-year jail term for industrial espionage. She committed suicide. In the end, Adams served six months in a Swiss prison. But it took the Maltese-born whistleblower more than 10 years to wheedle compensation from Europe through the courts. In 1985 the European Union agreed to pay Adams £200,000 - £300,000 less than he wanted.
Alone in his flat in Weymouth, Dorset, the veteran Labour supporter is full of bitterness and derision. His targets are manifold. He says the EU, drug companies, politicians - the whole shooting match - are all as bad as each other.
But one thing cheers him - the level of the drug companies' fines. 'I'm very happy, even though in my opinion they got off lightly,' he said in a heavy Mediterranean accent. 'My wife committed suicide. They've been at it since the Sixties. In some ways I feel vindicated and that the work I started is coming to an end.
'But the courts don't have the guts to take the necessary action. How is it that in the US they imprison company directors? It should happen in Europe.'
Not surprisingly, Adams hates the European Commission. 'Because of their stupidity, I was in the shit.'
He said that most major drug companies have senior politicians on their payroll to serve their interests. 'In England it was Lord Paget [now dead]. He was Roche's man. He was the only one who stood up in the Lords and said I was a spy. The son of a bitch.'
Adams may be unfazed by the severity of the fines issued by Monti. But the ruling stunned businessmen. German chemical group BASF, which was fined £185m, expressed anger at the punishment and indicated that it may appeal. If it does, it risks an even greater punishment, warned an EU spokesman for Monti this weekend.
The size of the fine staggered anti-trust lawyers. 'Super Mario has got his half a billion,' said Michael Cutting, an anti-trust lawyer at Linklaters & Alliance. 'The aggregate level of fines is massive. There has to be appeals.'
The trial will continue to have huge ramifications. Chief among them is the treatment by Europe of companies that volunteer information. Aventis was the first company to come to the European Commission and escaped with a paltry £3m fine. This is what Europe wants to encourage.
The Commission is preparing to take on a more muscular approach to cartel-busting. It is delegating increasing competition powers to individual countries so that it can work on the bigger cases.
But it is still dreadfully slow. It's been nearly two years since the EC announced it was investigating Sotheby's and Christie's on price-fixing charges. It has yet to decide whether it is going to bring charges.
But Adams can't put all the blame on Roche and the Commission for his present situation. The one-time leftwing cause célèbre and friend of Labour high-fliers, emerged from prison three years ago, having served five and a half years for the attempted murder of his second wife. He had hired a hitman, wanting to benefit from her life insurance.
'It is my biggest regret,' he says. 'If I had not done that, I would have been in the House of Lords today.'