Prime Minister Tsipras to call for parliamentary probe into Novartis case on Monday, says the Government Spokesman
Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, ANA-MPA)
Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will propose on Monday the setting up of a preliminary investigative committee in parliament to look into possible involvement of politicians in the Novartis bribery case, during a meeting of SYRIZA’s parliamentary group, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said on Saturday, speaking on TV channel “E”.
Tzanakopoulos said he believes junior coalition government partner, the Independent Greeks (ANEL) will support the proposal.
Asked about the case, he said the parliamentary committee is the only competent body to decide whether or not the offenses mentioned in the Novartis file and allegedly committed by political figures are time-barred and whether there are sufficient indications for criminal prosecution.
Tzanakopoulos criticized politicians who called the protected witnesses “hooded” individuals, saying this name-calling aims at creating impressions, and wondered why politicians allegedly involved in the case want to have a preferential treatment before the law. He also said the anonymous status of witnesses can only be lifted through a court order.
“Greek justice, as all judicial systems, has mechanisms to check the credibility of witnesses,” he added.
The conservative New Democracy party indicated that it would support a parliamentary probe but “without witnesses in masks.”
ND was referring to the protected witnesses on which prosecutors have based their claims against 10 Greek politicians.
The claims and counterclaims have created a furious political storm as the country prepares for general elections scheduled for next year, with New Democracy leading Mr. Tsipras’s leftist Syriza in opinion polls.
The New Democracy leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, accused the government of “trying to slander an entire party,” prompting Mr. Tsipras’s office to counter that the opposition leader was “trying to intimidate witnesses, prosecutors, judges and ultimately the Greek justice system.”
Addressing a press conference in Athens on Friday, European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos spoke of “conspiracy” and “slander” and said he would ask the Supreme Court to lift the protective status of witnesses and reveal their identity. He contested the legality of the witnesses’ statements.
Former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos demanded proof from prosecutors that the witnesses’ protected status had been approved by the Supreme Court.
The chief corruption prosecutor Eleni Touloupaki, as well as prosecutors Christos Dzouras and Stelios Manolis, said in a joint statement that the witnesses were placed under protected status in strict accordance with the law.
They also denied reports that they took part in a meeting with government officials about the Novartis case.
Pavlos Sarakis, a lawyer representing the three witnesses, told Greek television on Thursday that his clients were top Novartis executives who appealed to the American authorities and provided information to the F.B.I. in 2016 and 2017.
In a bid to boost their case, prosecutors are seeking concrete evidence of the kickbacks alleged to have been paid to Greek officials.
Novartis has been the subject of several bribery and corruption inquiries — in China, South Korea, Turkey and the United States — in the past three years. It said in an emailed statement on Thursday that it was cooperating “with requests from local and foreign authorities.” The statement added that neither Novartis nor any of its “current associates” had received an indictment in connection with the Greek case.
The former vice president of Novartis’s Greek office, Constantinos Frouzis, is expected to be summoned by an investigating magistrate soon.
Police raided the house of a close associate of New Democracy Vice-President Adonis Georgiadis on Saturday, as part of the ongoing investigation into the Novartis bribery case.
According to sources, the raid was ordered by the corruption prosecutor who is handling the case and who will assess any findings. No further information was immediately available on the development.
Meanwhile Evangelos Antonaros, government spokesman in the conservative administration of Costas Karamanlis, has been ejected from New Democracy following comments about party’s vice president Adonis Georgiadis on social media Greece.
Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice has confirmed it has received two requests for legal assistance from Greece and the United States linked to probes into Novartis and alleged bribes involving the Swiss drug maker and Greek doctors and public officials.
The two requests for legal assistance linked to the Novartis-Greek scandal were received at the end of last year and in January 2018 and are being studied, a justice ministry official confirmed to Swiss public television, RTS, and the Swiss News Agency on Saturday.
Greece’s Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis last year said Novartis had likely bribed “thousands” of doctors and civil servants to promote its products. He also accused Novartis of continuing to sell “overpriced” drugs even after the country was plunged into economic crisis in 2010 and huge cuts were imposed on state budgets, leaving many Greeks without access to affordable medicine.
Novartis overcharges alone are estimated to have cost the Greek state some €3 billion euros ($3.7 billion). Overall, similar practises across the health sector cost Greece some €23 billion between 2000 and 2015, investigators have said.
The Greek branch of Novartis has issued a statement saying it was “aware of the media reports about our business practices” in Greece and that it was cooperating with the authorities, the Swiss News Agency said.
According to prosecutors, who were assisted by the F.B.I., the bribes are estimated to be in the millions of euros, and the losses to the Greek state could have been in the billions.
The prosecutors said that Greek officials accepted money from Novartis between 2006 and 2015, a time frame that includes a period in which Athens was under pressure from creditors to tighten spending and contain a financial crisis.
Two former prime ministers, Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikramenos, and the European Union’s top official for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, were among those on their list.
The names of the 10 politicians were read out in Parliament on Tuesday when the report was submitted by Tasia Christodoulopoulou, the head of Parliament’s transparency committee and a lawmaker for the governing party, Syriza. All 10 have denied the allegations.
Under Greek law, politicians cannot be directly prosecuted by the judicial authorities. Cases must first be referred to Parliament, and lawmakers must revoke immunity and pave the way for indictments.