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Greek Parliament Probes Politicians in Novartis Bribery Case

Court officials allege the staff of the Swiss drug manufacturer Novartis of bribing Greek doctors and politicians. As Greece slowly emerges from the debt crisis that revealed a deeply corrupt elite, this case poses new challenges to the government.

Greek parliament decides to probe. Credits: Republika Online

Greek parliament decides to probe. Credits: Republika Online

The allegations mainly concern the political elite, including former prime ministers, Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikramenos, the European Union commissioner for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, and the current central bank governor, Yannis Stournaras. It is currently assumed that these individuals received payments in exchange for fixing the prices of Novartis medicine at exceptionally high prices, while also facilitating better access to the Greek market.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had very clear words for the parliament’s decision to probe: “We won’t ignore the Greek people’s mandate. We won’t help cover up or bury one of the biggest scandals in modern Greek history.” However, his opponents consider the investigation a systemic attack against political opposition.

“Instead of protecting the state’s interests, you used the case to hurt your political opponents,” argued Kyriakos Mitsotakis, leader of the opposition party New Democracy, in a direct address to Tsipras. Samaras went on to sue the current prime minister for failing to fulfill his promises.

Credits: Pharmafile

Credits: Pharmafile

The Novartis case is no novelty to the international arena. In the U.S., the Basel-based company was accused of bribing doctors, as well as making illegal payments to pharmacies in both 2013 and 2015. The latter case was settled with Novartis paying $390 million to the government. Additionally, Novartis also raised public attention when it settled another kickback lawsuit in South Korea last year. Taking full advantage of the international platform, similar cases are also reported in China and Russia.

Nevertheless, both former CEO Joe Jimenez and his successor, Vas Narasimhan, describe these cases as a legacy of abusive behavior of some “bad actors” and hope to bolster the reputation of the company. Statements like these, and the various filed cases against the company, suggest that the recent events in Greece are rather a consequence of global challenges related to bribery and the increasing interdependence of economic and political interests, than further proof of a specific Greek problem.

However, with the parliamentary investigation being expected to last about a month, there is hope that the extent of the issue will be illuminated soon. So far, analysts assume a possible rise of right populist parties as response to the investigation.