ATHENS – Two former Greek prime ministers and eight ex-cabinet ministers were named in a list to be handed over to the national parliament on Tuesday by Greece’s anti-corruption prosecutor due to their alleged involvement in a corruption scheme involving a Swiss pharmaceutical multinational.
The scandal involving Switzerland’s Novartis pharmaceutical corporation erupted in 2016 when two of its former top executives based in Greece informed United States authorities of the corporation’s illegal activities in Greece aimed at promoting its products.
“Novartis is committed to the highest standards in matters of ethical business conduct and regulatory compliance in all aspects of its business, and takes very seriously all allegations of misconduct,” the company said in a statement. It added that it was “aware of the media reports about our business practices.”
Prosecutors say over 4,500 Greek doctors obtained bonuses if they prescribed Novartis products with a higher price tag than similar products from rival pharma companies.
The Swiss company declined further comment other than pointing out it was assisting Greek authorities in their inquiries.
The events allegedly took place between 2006 and 2015 and the list includes both prime ministers preceding Alexis Tsipras: the jurist Panagiotis Pikrammenos, who led a one-month interim government in 2012 and the conservative New Democracy party leader Antonis Samaras who served from 2012 to 2015.
Also included are the current Bank of Greece governor and former finance minister Yannis Stournaras; the European Union’s migrations commissioner and former Greek health minister Dimitris Avramopoulos and former PASOK leader and treasury minister, Evangelos Venizelos.
Also listed is the current minister of the Greek merchant navy and former PASOK politician, Panagiotis Kouroumblis, who in 2015 was appointed health minister during Syriza’s first government.
However, according to details leaked to local media, Greek anticorruption prosecutor Eleni Touloupaki suspects Novartis’s strategy was not limited to price-fixing in Greece but sought to influence the overall European market.
Greece is included in a Euro-basket of 18 nations establishing European pharmaceutical product prices.
The prosecutor and her team of two also concluded the deal between Novartis and key treasury, health or public works ministers sought to block or delay competitors access to the Greek market.
According to local press, the scheme may have caused damages to the Greek purse to the value of 85 billion euros ($105 billion).
However, some of the alleged crimes may have prescribed due to a statute of limitation, although not the money laundering charges.
Government sources said Tsipras met late Tuesday with Justice Minister, Stavros Kontonis, to study the case in detail.
Kontonis, speaking to local media, said this was the largest financial scandal since the Greek state was founded.
All politicians involved have denied any wrongdoing in the alleged scandal.
“I have been informed of the (Tsipras) latest effort to slander me.” Samaras said to reporters late Monday reacting to the allegations against him. “But slander is the weapon of cowards,” he added, saying those behind this attack would face court action.