BERLIN (AP) — German antitrust officials searched the offices of Bayer AG on Thursday, saying the drugmaker was under suspicion for illegal price-fixing involving aspirin.
A spokeswoman for the antitrust agency said Bayer Vital, a subsidiary of the Levenkusen-based company, was under suspicion of having fixed prices at pharmacies in Germany to keep the retail price of the painkiller artificially inflated.
''According to national and European competition law, it is illegal for manufacturers to control the sales price of the merchants and it can be punished with fines,'' said Silke Kaul, a spokeswoman for the antitrust agency.
German news magazine Stern first reported Wednesday that Bayer was under suspicion of having fixed prices with more than 11,000 pharmacies in Germany.
Bayer allegedly offered to sell the painkiller to pharmacies at a discount of up to 3 percent if they agreed to market the drug for a sale discount of no more than 20 percent for up to four weeks.
A spokesman for Bayer said Thursday that the company did not tolerate price-fixing and supported the antitrust agency's investigation.
''We are working with the agency,'' Hartmut Alsfasser said. ''Whatever they need from us, they will get.''
An EU competition spokesman in Brussels said that the European Commission was not participating in the investigation.
''To the best of my knowledge, we are not involved'' in this probe, Jonathan Todd told Dow Jones Newswires.
Founded in 1863, Bayer invented aspirin in 1897 and has since gone on to make everything from vitamins to agricultural chemicals. Among its best-known products are Alka-Seltzer and One-A-Day vitamins. Bayer Vital is in charge of prescription-free drugs.