A sealed judicial probe compiled by anti-corruption prosecutors on alleged kickbacks and price-fixing charges by Novartis’ Greek subsidiary was sent to Parliament on Tuesday, a day after sparking another political furor in the recession-battered country - with the leftist government claiming the “biggest scandal” ever in Greece and the opposition directly charging that rule of law has been abolished.
The case file was not released to the public, and MPs are only allowed to read the voluminous documents in a special room in Parliament. Immunity laws for current and previous office-holders mandates that Parliament probe such cases.
Nevertheless, successive press leaks – particularly by pro-government and left-wing media - cited no less than 10 top lawmakers who held ministerial during the alleged wrongdoings, namely, two former prime ministers and eight ministers.
While former prime minister Antonis Samaras’ name was more-or-less expected to be included in the investigation, the fact that prosecutors cited the one-month tenure of caretaker premier Panagiotis Pikramennos (May-June 2012) also raised eyebrows.
A bevy of former ministers were cited in the case file because of the fact they held specific portfolios during the time of the alleged offenses, which are based on the testimony of three– still anonymous – “protected witnesses” who claimed that luggage with euros was handed out as bribe money for the purchase of hundreds of thousands of anti-flu vaccinations.
According to the latest reports on Wednesday morning, only protected witness three claimed that bribes were given by Novartis Hellas to ministers to jack up prices for the company's pharmaceuticals - but without affecting other drug prices. In fact, the last protected witness appeared to have concluded testimony on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2018, the same day as a massive rally in Athens with overt anti-government overtones.
Top “names” thrown around in press reports include current EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, former deputy PM Evangelos Venizelos and even Bank of Greece (BoG) Gov. Yannis Stournaras.
According to other reports, however, the testimony fails to mention who shipped the luggage-stuffed cash and to whom.
Monday began with the government spokesman, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, being “briefed” over the case file at the supreme court prosecutor’s office, with the latter saying afterwards that he was at the courthouse for another purpose. In the late afternoon, both the justice minister and alternate justice minister held an impromptu press conference outside the prime minister’s office to stress that the case was the “biggest scandal ever in Greece” and with kickbacks at roughly 50 million euros, while stating that PM Alexis Tsipras “had ordered” that the case file “immediately sent to Parliament”.