The latest twist in the seemingly inexhaustible Novartis furor in Greece took a new twist over the weekend with the revelation that a chief prosecutor overseeing a judicial probe acknowledged last month that two out of three "protected" witnesses also provided testimony to the US Justice Department, possibly with the intent of reaping rewards from America's federal whistle-blower law.
A relevant document, described as confidential and dated Oct. 8, 2019, was revealed in the Sunday edition of the Athens daily "Kathimerini". The published document that the "protected" witnesses "Maximos Sarafis" and "Ekaterini Kelesi" are the same individuals who intended to offer testimony in a separate Novartis kickbacks probe taking place in the United States.
"Protected witness" in the Greek context doesn't exactly mirror the well-known practice in the United States, as in the first case it means an individual who retains anonymity vis-a-vis the public and even the people implicated by their testimony in alleged wrongdoing.
According to "Kathimerini", the head of the special anti-corruption prosecutor's office, Eleni Touloupaki, refers to a document by US authorities as "highly confidential", with the latter including information delivered by the US side to Greece's prosecutors regarding the Novartis probe - but with the strict qualification that the information cannot be utilized in any context.
Touloupaki, as the newspaper article report, acknowledges that the two witnesses had "access to documentation that proves bribery, on the part of Novartis, involving Greek officials ... By exploiting the specific information we succeeded in at least identifying at least one of the two individuals, which we then designated as a protected witness in our process ... with the code name 'Maximos Sarafis'."
The name of the other Greek witness in US justice department documents is also cited by Touloupaki, with the same date.
Touloupakis' references to the witnesses comes in a letter to the Greek supreme court prosecutor's office on how the two of the three "protected witnesses" were designated as such in the first place. The trio of still anonymous witnesses implicated, over several months of testimony, 10 top Greek politicians and office-holders as recipients of bribes by Novartis' subsidiary in the country.
Previous prime ministers, health ministers, the current central banker and Greece's current outgoing EU Commissioner were named in a case file sent to Parliament, then duly sent back to Touloupaki for further investigation. However, the latter and her associates failed to turn up and present incriminating evidence against seven of the 10, with allegations against them by the trio of witnesses shelved.
Of the remaining three politicians, only former minister and current MP Andreas Loverdos was summoned for further questioning.
Touloupakis' roughly two-year investigation has generated a firestorm of criticism and opprobrium by opposition parties and those implicated by the anonymous witnesses' claims, with charges of judicial manipulation by the prosecutor's office in cooperation with the previous leftist Tsipras government, in order to smear a handful of its most prominent political opponents.
While the portion of the Novartis probe in Greece targeting top office-holders has fizzled out and has even "reversed gears" to scrutinize whether a judicial conspiracy was contrived and directed at the previous government's political rivals, only feeble scrutiny has focused on whether the Swiss multinational offered kickbacks to physicians and hospital administrators to promote and prefer Novartis' pharmaceuticals.
In practical terms, if it's confirmed that the two Greek witnesses have also provided testimony to US federal prosecutors with the prospect of receiving a reward, then their testimony before Touloupaki may be considered as null. Failure to find any corroboration of the trio of witnesses' claims against the 10 politicians has already mostly eviscerated the anti-corruption prosecutor's investigation, with corresponding criticism ranging from sloppiness to judicial misconduct.
For instance, based on widely leaked "secret testimony", all three anonymous witnesses apparently claimed that Novartis Greece's ex-vice president, Konstantinos Frouzis, coordinated and oversaw payments to politicians, with caches of euros sometimes transported in carrier luggage.
Nevertheless, the prosecutor, Touloupaki, has never summoned Frouzis to offer clarifications, answer questions or give official testimony, either as a material witness or as a suspect in alleged wrongdoing.