SHANGHAI -- Chinese police are investigating senior staff of British drug firm GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) (IW 1000/105) in China for suspected "economic crimes," according to a statement.

Police in the central Chinese city of Changsha said they were investigating "top management personnel" of GlaxoSmithKline (China) Investment Co.

Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper said police had detained company employees in three cities: Changsha, the commercial hub Shanghai and Beijing.

The exact nature of the allegations was not specified by Changsha police. But authorities typically use the phrase "economic crimes" when referring to corruption.

A China-based spokeswoman for GSK declined to comment Monday, while a spokesman for the company in London did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The British consulate in Shanghai said it was aware of the investigation and was "in contact with GSK."

Internet postings, which could not be confirmed, said more than 10 police in plainclothes entered the GSK office in Shanghai last Thursday and seized account books.

The allegations involve at least one foreign executive employed by the British company, said the postings on China's Twitter-like microblogs.

It is common practice for Chinese pharmaceutical firms to offer doctors and hospitals bribes to have their products used, industry insiders say.

GSK is one of the largest multinational pharmaceutical companies in China with total investment of more than $500 million, according to its website.

Last month, GSK said data was "misrepresented" in a paper written by scientists at its China research centre published in the journal "Nature Medicine" in 2010.

The company sacked one person involved and placed three others on administrative leave while another resigned, it said.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013