The Greek Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, which has been investigating the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis since 2016, suspects a ten Greek political leaders of accepting bribes to help the company market drugs at inflated prices.
On Monday the prosecutor sent part of the file to parliament where the list of politicians implicated in the alleged scandal was read out. The list included:
- Former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras;
- Former Caretaker Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos
- Former Health Ministers Dimitris Avramopoulos, who is the current European Commissioner for migration, Andreas Loverdos, Andreas Lykourentzos, and Adonis Georgiadis
- Former Finance Ministers Yannis Stournaras, current Governor of the Greek Central Bank, and Evangelos Venizelos
- Former Labour and Social Welfare Minister Giorgos Koutroumanis
The company is accused of paying kickbacks to politicians as well as thousands of doctors and civil servants between 2006-2015 worth around 50 million euros to sell its drugs at high prices, according to testimonies from 20 people including Novartis executives.
In an interview with the Athens-Macedonia News Agency Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis said that the Novartis case eclipses the Siemens scandal when the German conglomerate was alleged to have paid up to 100 million dollars in bribes to Greek politicians in return for public contracts in the run-up to the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Investigators estimate that the total losses for the Greek state resulting from pharmaceutical scandal could run into billions of euros.
Besides the loss of money for the state, the minister highlighted the “moral degradation” of overpricing drugs while the country was in a state of severe economic crisis and harsh austerity measures meant that many Greeks already made it found it difficult to afford healthcare.
Kontonis also pointed out that since Novartis used the price of its drugs in Greece as a reference for the prices it charged in 29 other countries, the case has “moral, financial and international implications.”
A number of people named on the list have publicly denied the allegations. Mr Samaras denounced the charges as “a new slander by Tsipras against me” referring to Alexis Tsipras who succeeded him as Prime Minister three years ago.
Mr Avramopoulos denied any involvement, saying that during his tenure as health minister the ministry was not involved in setting prices, adding “I have nothing to do with Novartis.”
Yannis Stournaras denounced the allegations as what he called “political targeting and bullying,” and said that he never “signed any decision in connection with Novartis when he was finance minister.”
News of the case first broke in December 2016 when two US-based executives of the Swiss company testified to the US Securities and Exchange Commission that Novartis “had used unfair methods to improve the company’s position in the Greek market for many years.”