Parliament decides to investigate Novartis scandal; ten politicians accused of taking bribes

Parliament decides to investigate Novartis scandal; ten politicians accused of taking bribes

After a long debate on Wednesday which ended in the early hours of Thursday, Greek parliament decided to establish a committee of inquiry to investigate all ten politicians alleged to have taken bribes by the Swiss pharmaceutical Novartis.

The ten politicians – including two former Prime Ministers, former Ministers of Health, the current Bank of Greece Governor and the European Commissioner for Migration – told parliament that they deny the accusations which are part of a conspiracy to defame them.

“We won’t ignore the Greek people’s mandate,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said before the vote. “We won’t help cover up or bury one of the biggest scandals in modern Greek history.”

Tsipras attacked the main opposition party’s record in power and the years of mismanagement, for which the party bears political responsibility. “Has there been a scandalous waste in the health sector in Greece for years, yes or no? Has there been a systematic overpricing of pharmaceutical products and materials, yes or no?” he asked, adding that another question is whether Novartis intervened systematically in order to promote its products in the market.

Main opposition New Democracy party leader, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, accused the government of “systematically attacking political opposition”. “You pretend to be clean and moral,” he said. “Instead of protecting the state’s interests, you used the case to hurt your political opponents.” Mitsotakis added that the current government is dangerous for democracy and reiterated his call for elections.

In their majority, the politicians being accused said they are in favor of parliament investigating the allegations against them. They slammed the government for “staging a witch hunt”, noting that “there is no concrete evidence” connecting the two former premiers and eight former ministers to the scandal.

Former Prime Minister, Antonis Samaras, told the House “I‘m not here to apologize, I‘m here to denounce.” Former deputy PM and Finance Minister, Evangelos Venizelos, called the case “the biggest and sloppiest plot” in decades.

New Democracy vice president – and former Health Minister – Adonis Georgiadis fiercely attacked the Prime Minister, saying that he has personally fabricated this case, along with the alternate Minister of Justice, Dimitris Papangelopoulos and judicial officials.

Bank of Greece Governor, Yannis Stournaras rejected all allegations. “The false accusations are causing severe damage to my honor and dignity and they were spread among the Greek people and abroad, and they undermine the integrity of the country’s central banker,” he said.

The former caretaker Prime Minister, Panagiotis Pikramenos, said accusations that he was bribed are “lies and unacceptable slander”, as his interim government had no dealings whatsoever with Novartis in the one month he was in office, at a time of political and economic turmoil in the country.

EU Migration & Home Affairs Commissioner – and Former Greek Health Minister – Dimitris Avramopoulos submitted a statement to Parliament in response to the alleged bribery and money laundering accusations he faces. Avramopoulos questioned the dates the alleged transactions occurred (during his tenure as Health Minister), particularly in relation to the dates the protected witnesses came forward to give their depositions.

Opposition parties backed the establishment of a parliamentary inquiry committee, however, their MPs strongly criticized the way the government has treated the allegations made in the case file, as well as the fact that witnesses are “protected” and remain anonymous. Additionally, the opposition charged that the government is attempting to “cover up” the role of former SYRIZA Health Minister Panagiotis Kouroublis, who is not mentioned by name in the case file. Strong objections were also raised against the prospect of voting separately on whether each of the accused should be referred to the inquiry committee.

On their part, government MPs argued that each person mentioned in the case file has a personal liability. Strong criticism was leveled at those who chose to file lawsuits against Prime Minister Tsipras, judicial officials and witnesses. SYRIZA and Independent Greeks (ANEL) MPs argued that there is no political motive behind the government’s intention to set up a parliamentary inquiry committee.

Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis described the Novartis case as a “first-class scandal” with hundreds of doctors involved and “possibly politicians” too./IBNA