Karl-Heinz Kuck, a prominent German cardiologist and candidate for the presidency of the European Society of Cardiology, has been found guilty of fraud. He received a fine of 100,000 Euros and a prison sentence of one year. His prison sentence has been suspended as long as he does not commit additional fraud.
According to multiple reports in the German media, Kuck was found guilty for treating patients who he did not see. Kuck told the German press that he was sorry for the error and that he was unaware his behavior was illegal. Some German newspapers reported that it is a common practice in Germany for prominent physicians to receive payments for work performed by other physicians.
Kuck, who is also the immediate past president of the European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA), is the head of cardiology at St. Georg Hospital in Hamburg, Germany. He is considered one of the top electrophysiologists in the world. German newspapers reported that he had treated numerous celebrities, including Udo Lindenberg and David Bowie.
Kuck is one of two candidates to be the next president of the European Society of Cardiology. He is opposed by Barbara Casadei, a cardiologist at Oxford University. The postal ballot for the race began on May 2 and is scheduled to conclude on June 24. The results will be published on July 4.
The ESC said it was aware of the settlement and that “the board of directors of the German Cardiac Society plans to meet in the coming days to review all the facts of this matter and determine Professor Kuck’s future status within the organization.” The ESC said it would defer to the German Cardiac Society, at least initially: “The European Society of Cardiology has a longstanding position of not interfering in the internal workings of national cardiac societies. As a result, it would be premature for us to make any comment until the German Cardiac Society has completed its inquiry.”
The ESC has informed me that Kuck has decided to withdraw his candidacy for president-elect of the ESC. Barbara Casadei is now the sole candidate for the position.
Previous Presidential Problem
This is not the first time there has been controversy around the ESC presidency. If elected Kuck would serve as president-elect for two years before assuming office. The current president-elect, who is scheduled to assume his duties later this year, is Jeroen Bax, a a professor of cardiology at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
Bax, as I have previously reported, is also known for his very close collaboration with Don Poldermans, the disgraced Dutch researcher who has been accused of significant and multiple examples of scientific misconduct. The Poldermans case has led to the retraction of several important papers and resulted in controversy and confusion when it was found that ESC guidelines on perioperative use of beta blockers relied heavily on trials run by Poldermans and Bax. Bax and Poldermans were co-authors of the guideline. Further, Poldermans was the chair of the writing committee and Bax was the chair of the entire ESC Cardiology Practice Guidelines Committee.
Poldermans and Bax were co-authors of hundreds of papers. A feature article in the Dutch language publication Medisch Contact provided a much more detailed portrait of Poldermans and fills in much of the background of the entire affair. The article outlines the rise and fall of Poldermans career, focusing especially on Poldermans’ close working relationship with Jeroen Bax and another Erasmus MC scientist, the biomedical statistician Eric Boersma. The three worked together on the original DECREASE study and on subsequent DECREASE studies. It was the conduct of these studies that formed the basis for the subsequent scandal.
When Bax became a full professor he expressed gratitude to Poldermans in his inaugural lecture. He even stated at the time that “although I was frequently asked to reduce cooperation [with Poldermans], I have never done so.” Later, Bax refused to explain this comment to Medisch Contact. In the lecture he expressed nothing but pride in his relationship with Poldermans: “Nowhere in Netherlands cardiology can one find such a great partnership as we have built.”