Fiery exchanges in House before vote on Novartis bribery probe

Fiery exchanges in House before vote on Novartis bribery probe

Greek MPs were poised to vote in the early hours of Thursday morning to vote on whether 10 Greek politicians alleged to have accepted bribes from Swiss drugs manufacturer Novartis should face investigation by a House committee. 

The voting followed several hours of vehement debate involving the politicians named in the contentious prosecutors’ report as well as party leaders. 

Addressing the House, former conservative premier Antonis Samaras referred to a “ridiculous” case file. “I did not come here to defend myself, I came here to accuse,” Samaras said. “Every government can call on fake witnesses to tarnish its rivals,” he said, noting that a such a practice signaled the “end of urban democracy.”  

Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras, who served as Greece’s finance minister from 2012 to 2014, dismissed the allegations as “shameful slander” but called for them to be probed so they can be revealed as “totally false.” 

One of the most emotional speeches was by Panayiotis Pikrammenos, who served as caretaker prime minister for a month in 2012 when he was head of the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court.

“At the beginning I was surprised, but now I am overwhelmed by feelings of anger, frustration and disappointment,” Pikrammenos told MPs. “I am accused of being bribed while I was an active judicial functionary,” he said, dismissing the charges as “fictional.”

Former health minister Evangelos Venizelos described the affair as the “biggest” but also “most amateur” conspiracy since the restoration of democracy in 1974.

He questioned the timing of the Novartis vote, claiming that the government accelerated the affair due to its failures in significant foreign policy issues such as the Macedonia name talks and rising tensions in the Aegean but also its failure to secure a “clean exit” from Greece’s third bailout in August.

Another former health minister, Adonis Georgiadis, called on his fellow MPs to approve a probe as he was keen to prove his innocence. He accused Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and other government officials of fabricating the Novartis scandal. Georgiadis’s clash with Alternate Health Minister Pavlos Polakis was among the tensest moments of the debate.

European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, another former health minister, was not in Parliament due to a scheduled meeting in New York, but he sent a written statement to Parliament calling for the protected witnesses to be identified and to “defend themselves for their crimes.”

He also called for a discussion on whether the alleged illegal activity by Novartis in Greece “started suddenly in 2006, when I assumed my post as health minister, and was interrupted just as suddenly on January 26, 2015.” He was referring to the day after general elections that brought the current leftist-led government to power.

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