Greece to probe claims that Novartis bribed former leaders

Greece’s prime minister Alexis Tsipras has called on the country’s parliament to investigate whether two of his predecessors, former officials and ex-ministers accepted bribes from Novartis, in what is turning into a major scandal.

According to press reports, former prime ministers Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikrammenos have been identified as alleged beneficiaries of bribes from the Swiss pharma company in a report compiled by anti-corruption prosecutors with the help of US authorities.

Also named in the report were the governor of the Bank of Greece and the EU’s migration commissioner.

Novartis allegedly bribed politicians to approve overpriced contracts, and made payments to doctors in order to boost sales between 2006 and 2015.

This was against a backdrop of austerity in the Greek public health system, which was squeezed heavily because of cost-cutting measures demanded by its international creditors during the country’s debt crisis – the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

Many state-funded hospitals were unable to pay for medicines and built up huge debts, and in 2010 Novo Nordisk pulled its modern insulin from the Greek market, although it later began to resume supplies under a new pricing deal.

The latest claims have become a major scandal in Greece since they emerged last week, with one serving government minister reportedly saying the kickbacks amounted to more than 50 million euros, and cost the Greek public health system more than 4 billion euros.

The Guardian quoted deputy justice minister, Dimitris Papangelopoulos, who said this is the “biggest scandal since the establishment of the Greek state” almost 200 years ago.

Tsipras, leader of the left-leaning Syriza party, said the government will attempt to recover “the last euro” of any money that has been lost. “We will do everything we can to reveal the truth,” he added.

Allegations of bribery first surfaced around January last year when prosecutors raided the offices of Novartis in Athens as part of an ongoing probe.

In a statement Novartis said it is aware of the reports and ongoing investigations, but could not comment directly the investigation is ongoing.

Media speculation is driven by “selective leaking” of portions of a confidential and preliminary investigative file, the company added.

“This file has to date not been shared with Novartis, nor has Novartis received any notification from either the public prosecutor in Greece or the Parliament related to the investigation. Neither Novartis nor any of our current associates have received formal allegations from the authorities, let alone an indictment connected with this investigation,” the company said.

Novartis said it is co-operating with the Greek and US authorities, and has been conducting its own internal investigation.

“We are determined to fully understand the situation and accept responsibility for any actions that fell below our high standards of ethical business conduct. If any wrongdoing is found we will take fast and decisive action and do everything possible to prevent future misconduct,” Novartis added.

However Novartis said it “will defend our people and company” against claims that are sensational and unfounded.

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