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Company President Fired For Alleged Harassment, Embezzlement

June 26, 1996

WESTBORO, Mass. (AP) _ Swedish drug company Astra AB said today it has fired its U.S. chief executive after allegations he embezzled $2 million, pressured female workers into having sex and fostered a corporate culture of hard partying.

Astra, creator of Prilosec, an ulcer medicine that is the world’s second-best selling drug, also fired a second executive and two others resigned. The company said it is cooperating with government agencies now investigating the charges.

``(This) action brings to an end an unfortunate and distasteful chapter in the history of Astra USA,″ said C.J. Johansson, executive vice president of the Swedish parent company and leader of an investigating committee.

Lars Bildman, who was suspended April 28 as president and chief executive of Astra USA, was fired Tuesday without any monetary compensation, the company said.

George Roadman, vice president of marketing and sales for the company’s hospital division, was also fired. Edward Aarons, director of institutional business, agreed to resign. Both were suspended May 3.

Anders Lonner, an executive in Sweden who Johansson said knew about improprieties but failed to report them, also has resigned. Accusations against another executive, Andreas Feulner, were not substantiated, Johansson said.

``Our investigation uncovered management behavior under Mr. Bildman that is unacceptable to Astra,” said Johansson. ``Astra will not tolerate conduct that is unprofessional, hurtful to the morale of our employees, or which fails to meet the high ethical standards of the company.”

Bildman’s attorney, Roderick MacLeish, said his client was the victim of ``cowardly and disloyal actions by the Swedish parent company″ and ``scurrilous and untrue allegations brought by disgruntled former employees.″

Johansson said there was evidence that Bildman had embezzled about $2 million for personal expenses, including vacations and renovations to his houses in Massachusetts and Vermont. State and federal authorities have begun investigations into these questions, the company said.

The investigating committee also found evidence of ``inappropriate behavior″ by Bildman and other executives at company functions.

Johansson said Bildman went to great lengths to keep his behavior secret, renting off-site office space to keep information from the parent company.

Three former female employees have filed suit against the company, saying Bildman fondled them or pressured them for sex. In a lengthy article published May 13, Business Week magazine chronicled a corporate culture of hard partying it said was fostered by Bildman.

An unknown number of employees also reached financial settlements with the company that included agreements not to talk about their claims. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has asked a federal judge to nullify such agreements, saying they amount to attempts to cover up a crime.

Bildman has denied the allegations.

Astra USA has 1,475 employees. It markets Prilosec as part of a joint venture called Astra Merck Inc. with the U.S. drug maker Merck & Co. Prilosec had $3 billion in sales last year and analysts say is poised this year to overtake another ulcer drug, Zantac, as the world’s best seller.

Astra Merck also markets Plendil, a high blood pressure medicine. Astra markets Toprol-XL, a drug for chest pains and high blood pressure and Rhinocort, for hay fever.

The parent company had 1995 sales of about $5 billion.

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