Who paid the largest criminal fine in history and why?

Pfizer, Covid vaccine producer and US pharmaceutical giant, is one of several companies hit with multiple billion dollar criminal fines in recent history – but which company paid the largest ever criminal fine?

Thursday, 9th September 2021, 11:41 am
Updated Thursday, 9th September 2021, 12:02 pm
Who paid the largest criminal fine in history and why? (Image credit: Canva)

As regulators worldwide attempt to catch up with companies in industries such as finance, technology, healthcare, oil and more, large fines are increasingly emerging as one of the most reliable tools to hold giant corporations with eye-watering revenues to account.

Here are some of the largest criminal fines paid in history, which companies had to pay them and why.

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Who paid the largest criminal fine in history?

Pfizer has often been reported as paying the largest criminal fine in history - with the pharmaceutical company falling foul of US regulators in 2009.

But notable other corporations have paid out costlier fines before and after Pfizer.

Tepco, which stands for Tokyo Electric Power Co, was ordered to pay a whopping £330 billion in compensation to victims of 2011's Fukushima disaster.

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The dramatic triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan came as part of the devastating aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 and was the most severe nuclear disaster since Chernobyl's catastrophic nuclear meltdown in 1986.

Following an investigation into the Fukushima disaster, three Tepco chief executives were initially charged with failing to ensure that safety requirements were met - with a Japanese parliamentary panel report claiming the incident was "profoundly man-made".

The three Tepco executives were later cleared of negligence for the disaster, but the company had still been forced to pay more than £300 billion in compensation to victims.

Oil giant British Petroleum (BP) was also charged with an initial criminal fine of £2.8 billion in 2012 for its central role in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but its costly compensation process later lifted the bill to roughly £47 billion.

The 2010 incident went down in history as one of the worst environmental disasters of all time, resulting in 11 deaths and a criminal fine from US regulators of $4.5 billion.

It was later revealed by Buzzfeed that BP paid just $25 million to Mexico in compensation for the incident.

The Bank of America, which has paid out an estimated $82.7 billion since 2000 according to data collected by Diggity Marketing, also paid roughly £11 billion in damages for its role in the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis and financial crash.

How big was Pfizer's criminal fine and why did it have to pay?

While the criminal fine of £1.7 billion ($2.3 billion) levied against Pfizer in 2009 was considerably less than the large fines handed out to companies like Tepco, BP and Bank of America, the fine still set a new record at the time as the largest healthcare fraud settlement and criminal fine to date.

Pfizer was ordered to pay the fine by US regulators after it was found to have engaged in fraud by mispromoting now-withdrawn painkiller Bextra.

The company pleaded guilty to charges of advertising the medication for 'off-label' purposes which were not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Pfizer pulled Bextra from the market in 2005, but had promoted it for uses and dosages which the FDA had specifically declined following safety concerns over the medication.

Which industries pay the largest fines?

According to Diggity Marketing, financial services is the industry responsible for the most fines to date.

As of February 2021, the sector including banks and payment providers had clocked up fines of $331,558,339,161 across more than 6,000 fines in total.

The pharmaceutical industry followed behind with 944 fines totalling just over $56 billion, while the oil and gas industry ranked third with fines of around $45 billion.

Of companies paying the most in fines to date, the Bank of America topped the chart and JPMorgan Chase came in at second place - paying more than $35 billion in fines.

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