Grey areas, gaps noted in Novartis case testimonies

Grey areas, gaps noted in Novartis case testimonies

The testimonies of three anonymous witnesses upon which the alleged Novartis bribery case has been built is full of inconsistencies and gray areas, according to reports on Wednesday. 

Judicial sources say that the witnesses have been inconsistent as they “remember” every 10 or 20 days to add a new name of a politician to have allegedly received a bribe from the Swiss drug giant, raising questions about the investigation’s methodology. 

Moreover, another 17 witnesses, who are not anonymous, have not claimed that politicians received bribes.

The case file also includes an FBI report about Novartis which mentions nothing about illegal payments being made to politicians. The FBI report also said that none of the information can be used for legal proceedings. 

For its part, the government toned down its rhetoric on Wednesday after a meeting of ruling SYRIZA’s political council chaired by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras deemed it prudent to wait for more information to emerge before it can call for the setting up of a special committee to investigate the case. 

This was seen as a departure from the government’s rhetoric the day before, when it described the case as one of the greatest scandals in modern Greek history. 

The case file was submitted to Parliament by the Supreme Court prosecutor on Tuesday. It names 10 high-ranking politicians who allegedly received bribes between 2007 and 2015 to fix prices and increase market access. 

Meanwhile, Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis stoked the fire further on Wednesday claiming the three witnesses are Novartis executives who got caught “illegally enriching themselves and sang like birds.”

His comments, however, were soon dismissed by Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis, who said the government “naturally does not know” who the witnesses are.

However, New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis denounced the government for “slandering an entire party” (New Democracy) using the testimony of anonymous witnesses. 

Their identity must be revealed and they must appear before Parliament, he said. He also accused the government of pushing the case to divert attention from the way it is handling negotiations with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and the new austerity measures it has signed on to. 

“[Tsipras] is trying to save himself in the only way he knows by slandering his political opponents and dividing citizens,” Mitsotakis said. 

EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Wednesday urged authorities to shed full light on the alleged scandal, adding that accusations against him were politically motivated, while Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras, who served as finance minister from July 2012 to June 2014, denied signing any decisions related to Novartis. 

“During my term as finance minister I never signed any decision directly or indirectly related to Novartis,” he said said in a statement. 

Constantinos Frouzis, who served as vice president of Novartis Greece, has denounced the alleged scandal as a “gross farce,” while calling for the case file to be made public.

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