Speaking before the SYRIZA Parliamentary group on Monday, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras proposed the establishment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry into the Novartis case.
Tsipras rejected criticism by the opposition that his government has orchestrated a judicial “witch hunt” against political opponents. He also said his government will not succumb to the attack by the opposition and “vested interests”, as he said, adding that the independent justice system is responsible for the investigation. He went on to say that his government will seek reimbursement of over-charging by Novartis, while also opining that statutes of limitations have not been exceeded in this case.
Tsipras also attacked main opposition New Democracy party and leader Kyriacos Mitsotakis, charging that a campaign to blackmail witnesses and prosecutors is under way.
The political upheaval caused by the Novartis scandal has alarmed many within Greece, as well as the country’s creditors who would not like to see political uncertainty emerge in the country. Analysts point out that the likelihood of an early election being called will increase in parallel with the polarization of Greece’s political life, which hinders investment and the smooth implementation of the bailout program.
Considering that the next three months are seen as crucial for the economy, the Novartis backlash could jeopardize progress made and the momentum leading to the successful conclusion of the bailout program in August.
By May 2018, Athens and creditors are expected to navigate the stress tests of Greek banks, negotiate the IMF’s participation in the Greek program as well as debt relief, determine arrangements for the post-bailout era and conclude the fourth and final review of the current program. Additionally, crucial talks in search of a solution to the FYROM name dispute are also expected to culminate around May.
A concern for the government is that the re-emergence of snap election rumors amid political polarization could deter creditors from helping the government achieve the “clean exit” from the bailout program that it desires. Another possibility the government is wary of, is creditors pushing for an early election in order to block a possible derailment of the economy. Government officials maintain that they are committed to seeing though the 4-year term and not being “dragged” to an early election by “accident”, especially since opinion polls still place New Democracy firmly in the lead.
In any case, when the details of the Novartis case are discussed in parliament, the government will face a united New Democracy-PASOK front. An additional point for concern is the fact that the accusations being levelled at the two former prime ministers and eight former ministers lack hard evidence and are largely speculative.
Local media reports point out that the Prime Minister has been put in a difficult position by the statements made in previous days by top government officials, who hurriedly branded the case a “huge scandal” and were quick to adopt the accusations made by the protected (unnamed) witnesses. It is also noted that Tsipras has already come under fire by the opposition parties, who accuse him of contriving with senior judicial officials to “set up” his political rivals.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported on Monday that Greek legal experts have expressed doubts about the reliability of statements by the three protected witnesses who testified to the anti-corruption prosecutor under assumed names./IBNA