Chinese police have charged the British former head of GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in China and other colleagues with corruption, after a probe found the drug maker made billions of yuan from elaborate schemes to bribe doctors and hospitals.

Mark Reilly, Zhang Guowei and Zhao Hongyan were suspected of bribing officials in the industry and commerce departments of Beijing and Shanghai, the official Xinhua news agency reported, quoting police in Hunan province.

It is the biggest corruption scandal to hit a foreign company in China since the Rio Tinto affair in 2009, which resulted in four executives, including an Australian, being jailed for between seven and 14 years.

GSK “departments offered bribes to hospitals and doctors as well as personnel to boost sales. The money involved was in the billions of yuan,” a Ministry of Public Security official told a press conference in Beijing. The charges – which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison for bribery – were seen as harsher than many industry insiders and China-based foreign executives expected. – Reuters