Pharma scandal whips up political storm in Greek opposition ranks

Minister: "It is the biggest scandal since the creation of the modern Greek state." [Shutterstock]

A probe into illegal practices of Swiss drugmaker Novartis in Greece, involving thousands of state officials and doctors, has opened the Pandora’s Box in Greek politics as local media have named ten former bigwigs from opposition parties as being targeted by the investigation.

Kathimerini, a prominent daily newspaper, reported that it is not clear which category of charges the ten politicians named would face if their immunity from prosecution is lifted. But it said prosecutors are seeking to probe eight former ministers, the 2012 caretaker Prime Minister Panayiotis Pikrammenos and former prime minister Antonis Samaras.

Most of the ten belong either to the opposition conservative New Democracy party or the Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok) including the current Governor of the Bank of Greece Yiannis Stournaras.

All the politicians denied the allegations while New Democracy party accused the government of interfering with the course of the investigation.

“I have been informed of the (prime minister’s) latest effort to slander me,” former Prime Minister Samaras said. “But slander is the weapon of cowards […] those behind this attack will answer for their actions in court.”

Avramopoulos reacts

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, whose name was among the ten, also denied any involvement.

“During the period I was the minister of health, from 2006 to 2009, the medicine policy and its pricing were not within the competence of the health ministry and therefore I had no, nor could I have, connection to this issue.”

Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis said the large scale of illegal practices has “caused annual state expenditure on medicine to explode.” His deputy Dimitris Papangelopoulos called the affair “the biggest scandal since the creation of the modern Greek state.”

Government sources said that the Novartis scandal has international dimensions but that Greece is critical as it was the “reference country” for drug pricing in 29 countries of the world.

The investigation was launched in mid-December 2016 with evidence of bribery of thousands of state officials and doctors in order for Novartis to get preferential treatment in the market. The Greek probe followed a two-year investigation conducted by the US authorities on the methods Novartis allegedly used to prevail in the market.

The Swiss drugmaker issued a statement stating that it was aware of the media reports about its business practices in Greece and that it was continuing to cooperate with the authorities to shed light on the case.

The prosecutors submitted the relevant documents to the Supreme Court on Tuesday and the case will now be forwarded to the House, as politicians are also allegedly involved in the case file.

Novartis under scrutiny for alleged pharma scandal in Greece

The Greek government launched an official investigation into pharmaceutical giant Novartis, following the publication of allegations of corruption and bribery in national news media.

Pro-government newspapers reported that the scandal could deal a severe blow to the old establishment, which had led the country to the financial deadlock.

FBI investigates

They also reported that the US and Greek authorities fully cooperated in the investigation and that a team of FBI executives and prosecutors had recently visited Greece.

Speaking to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (AMNA), Kontonis commented: “It is a big and serious case, it has economic aspects as well as ethical and international parameters.”

“In a period of economic crisis and recession that made it difficult for many poor fellows to find the necessary medicines for their health, there were pharmaceutical companies that, in an illegal and provocative way, operated in the direction of drug over costing or delivering drugs, via perjurer civil servants of the National Health System, where they should not,” the leftist minister said.

“For this reason, pharmaceutical spending has skyrocketed in recent years to double the EU spending on pharmaceuticals,” Kontonis added.

Commenting on the opposition reaction, Kontonis called it “ridiculous” and disclosed that the high point the case reached today was the result of an investigation that lasted for more than one year.

 

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