Novartis-Gate: 2 Prime Ministers, 8 Ministers involved in Greece’s Kickback Scandal
The names of two prime ministers and eight ministers of Health, Finance and Development are involved in the Novartis bribe scandal, media report Monday afternoon, after the prosecutor decided to forward the investigation findings to the Greek Parliament. The scandal is estimated to be worth 85 billions euros.
According to first information leaked to the press, indications speak of the ministers of Health, Finance and Development, for the time between 2006 and beginning of 2015.
Although they names of the ministers have not been officially released, several names are already in circulation in the corridors of media outlets and websites.
It should be reminded that the Novartis kickbacks scandal became known towards the end of 2016, following an investigation conducted by the US FBI and several eye-witnesses, former employees at Novartis, who were willing to testify in exchange for protection and possibly decreased sentences. Already in 2016, it was known that the file contained names of politicians and private and public doctors (some 4,000 names.). Local media reported back then that a big pharma company bribed doctors and public officials in order to boost prescriptions and the companies sales at the cost of public spending and the Greek social security funds that come up for the cost of insured’s medical care and medicines. Two Novartis executives in Greece had told US authorities that “the company used unfair methods to improve the company’s position in the Greek market for many years.”
In January 2017, a former Novartis manager was threatening to commit suicide in one of the biggest hotels in Athens. The incident happened a few days after prosecutors raided the Novartis offices in Athens.
In April 2017, the Greek Parliament voted in favor of opening investigation on the scandal. A broad majority of 187 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament approved a government proposal to look into suspected mismanagement in the Greek public health sector.
On Monday, Corruption prosecutor Eleni Touloupakis and two assistant prosecutors hand transferred the first part of the case file to Supreme Court prosecutor Xeni Dimitriou with the request to submit it to the Palriament under the Law regarding “Ministers’ Responsibility.”
At the same time, bribes charges have been brought against one Novartis executive who has also been banned from leaving the country.
Although so far, few details have been leaked, private Alpha TV reported of 6 to 7 protected eye-witnesses. “One of them said he saw suitcases full of cash changing hands,” the network justice reporter said.
Sunday newspaper documentonews reported yesterday (Feb 4) that with the kickbacks, the Novartis would secure
- high prices for its drugs in Greece and therefore also in Europe as Greece is “reference country” for the price setting
- minister and other high ranking officials would delay or ‘hinder’ Novartis’ competitors
- the company was always in preferential payment by the Greek Health Care system (EOPYY) that otherwise was blaming the economic crisis for delayed payments to other pharma companies.
According to Documento, the bribes were between 1 and 2 million euros. “Investigation findings are based on thousands of official payment documents and price settings for medicine,” the newspaper notes adding that “the loss for the Greek state is 2 billion euros for the time 2010-2015 alone from the overcharging of medication.”
Members of the FBI and US Justice authorities were reportedly recently in Athens.
Corruption prosecutors continue investigation about the involvement of politicians and non-politicians in bribes and the possibility of money laundering.
Bribes charges may be hindered due to statute of limitation of former ministers and prime ministers but not the charges for money laundering.
The parliament procedure provides the establishment of an investigation committee following the request signed by at least 30 lawmakers.
Late Monday night, in live statements to the press, Justice Minister Stavors Kontonis said “this is a bigger scandal than the one with Siemens.”
Kontonis said also that “authorities have not located the President of Novartis Hellas,” implying he may have left Greece.
Names involved and reactions
One of the PM’s names circulating is the one of Panagiotis Pikramenos, a judge who served as interim Prime Minister May-June 2012. According to athensnewsagency, Pikramenos state that neither he personally nor any member of the interim government was involved in the scandal.”
Meanwhile, several media have uploaded the names of the ministers and prime ministers allegedly involved in the scandal after leaks by government sources and Justice officials. Apart from Pikramenos, the other former prime minister belongs to a conservative party. The names list include also two well-known former PASOK Finance Ministers, one PASOK Health Minister and two New Democracy Health Ministers. One of them was responsible for the implementation of ‘austerity reforms’ in the health sector. He had indeed decreased retail prices for drugs, incl those of Novartis.
According to dailies Efsyn.gr, tovima.gr, websites like tribune.gr and others, the names allegedly involved in the scandal are ex PM Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikramenos, ex FinMins Evaggelos Venizelos and Yannis Stournaras (now governor of Bank of Greece), ex HMs Adonis Georgiadis, Andreas Loverdos, Dimitris Avramopoulos (now EU Migration Commissioner), Alexandros Lykourentos, Giorgos Koutroumanis, Stavros Salmas.
Also Dimitris Avramopoulos (Health Minister 2006-2009) said in a statement that while he was Health Minister, the Ministry was not involved in setting medicine prices and that this happened after he was no longer minister. “I have nothing to do with Novartis,” he stated.
According to state broadcaster ERT TV, former ND Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said “this is a new slander by Tsipras against me.”
Governor of the Bank of Greece, Yannis Stournaras spoke of “Political targeting and bulling.” He said that he never “signed any decision in connection with Novartis when he was finance minister.”
Ex FinMin Evaggelos Venizelos said “those who attacked me in the past they regretted it.”
As the night grows older, I believe also the rest of the former ministers will deny any wrongdoing.