NEWS

Gov't taxed by Novartis affair as prosecutors seek kickback trail

IOANNA MANDROU

TAGS: Politics

A prosecutors’ report alleging that Swiss drugs manufacturer Novartis bribed Greek government officials has turned into a headache for the leftist-led government with SYRIZA’s political council failing again on Thursday night to decide on the next step. 

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras chaired the second meeting in as many days on Thursday but no decision was taken to create a parliamentary committee to probe the report which has been largely built on the testimonies of three protected witnesses. 

In a bid to fill in the gaps left by the testimonies, Greek prosecutors are seeking the help of their counterparts in other countries to try to find the supposed kickbacks. 

Corruption prosecutors have asked authorities in Switzerland and Cyprus for access to the bank accounts of a former high-ranking executive of Novartis, Kathimerini understands, and of other people thought to have played a role in making illicit payments to politicians to fix prices and secure market access for the drugs firm.

According to sources, some of these people had their own consultancies and thus were able to facilitate illicit payments. 

Prosecutors are said to be particularly interested in probing an account Novartis is believed to have held at the Swiss bank UBS. 

Judicial authorities are keen to locate bank accounts, or possibly offshore companies, that could point to transactions that substantiate the claims of the three protected witnesses, according to which Greek politicians received millions of euros in illegal payments. 

Judicial sources believe it is quite likely that Parliament will return the case file to prosecutors to find more concrete evidence on which to base their claims. 

Meanwhile, sources from within New Democracy expressed concern that the government’s stance on the issue is blurring the line separating the executive branch of power from the judicial one and likened the situation to Poland, where the judicial system has recently been denounced in Europe as inefficient and sometimes corrupt. 

“When there is no distinction between the branches, we do not have a just state,” the sources said. Government sources hit back at ND, accusing it of trying to “intimidate” the justice system and state institutions. 

For his part, Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras said the accusations against him are politically motivated and are aimed at “pushing me out of the Bank of Greece.”

“The efforts of certain people to implicate myself and my family in the Novartis scandal will not succeed. My career, as well as that of my wife, are completely transparent and cannot be tainted by the urges and ulterior motives of those seeking to eliminate me in every despicable way possible,” Stournaras said.

“I unequivocally state that these shaky accusations will not stand.”

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