Six senior officials from the State Food and Drug Administration (SFDA) have been accused of bribery and taken into custody by the procuratorial department in Beijing.
Xicheng District People's Procuratorate is questioning Cao Wenzhuang, 44, director of the Department of Drug Registration, and a number of other administration officials, the Beijing Times reported yesterday.
The administration refused to comment on the report.
All six suspects were arrested on January 12 at an annual conference of the national food and drug administration in a northern suburb of the capital, the newspaper said.
It is not yet clear what sums of money are involved, as the cases are still under investigation.
The judicial detention of the officials followed an order delivered by the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, which is the top watchdog of the Chinese Communist Party.
Insiders say the arrests follow the detention of a private businessman who has not been identified as investigations are ongoing suspected of offering bribes to drug administration officials.
This is the second time senior SFDA officials have been arrested since Hao Heping, former director of the Department of Medical Devices, was detained last June accused of taking bribes.
The Xicheng District People's Procuratorate, which has finished investigating the case against Hao, is ready to indict him.
Though there are a series of pharmaceutical enterprises involved in Hao's case, sources say the Cao investigation could be even more complicated.
Mismanagement in the testing and approval of new drugs has been cited as one of the major factors that has led to skyrocketing prices of medicines and huge profits in recent years, experts say.
Shao Mingli, the new SFDA director, has repeatedly criticized loopholes in the examination and approval procedures for new drugs, reported the Beijing-based Caijing Magazine, which was published on Monday.
The SFDA dealt with 10,009 new drugs in 2004, while just 148 medicines were approved in the United States.
Both Cao and Hao have worked as secretaries to Zheng Xiaoyu, who retired as the head of the SFDA in May last year, the magazine said.
In the first 11 months of 2005, China handled 258,700 medicine-related cases involving drugs worth 430 million yuan (US$53.75 million).
Over the same period the authorities banned 114,000 unlicensed manufacturers, demolished 461 illegal factories, withdrew 66 operation licences and imposed criminal penalties on 34 people, sources at the SFDA said recently.