Political row heats up over Novartis affair, as case starts to crumble

Political row heats up over Novartis affair, as case starts to crumble

Opposition New Democracy on Tuesday accused the leftist-led government of fabricating the alleged Novartis bribery scandal to divert the public's attention from the controversial name deal signed last year with North Macedonia.

“Panic-stricken by the public rallies against the name deal 14 months ago, the government fabricated what it purports to be the biggest scandal since the foundation of the Greek state,” the conservative party's spokeswoman, Sofia Zacharaki, said on Tuesday, dismissing the government's tactics as an attempt to “disparage 10 of its political rivals.”

Her comments came in response to the weekly press briefing by government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, who claimed that witness revelations alleging that 10 former government officials, including two ex-prime ministers, had accepted bribes from the Swiss pharmaceutical giant, “completely terrified the powers of the old establishment and led to reactions that are indicative of its mentality.”

“The very same people who verbally defend the independence of the judicial authorities… have not hesitated… to speak of fabrications and fixed trials,” Tzanakopoulos said, accusing opposition New Democracy and PASOK of attempting to intimidate judicial authorities from investigating the case.

The war of words comes a day after corruption prosecutors shelved a large part of the case, which has been built entirely on witness accounts and suggestions inferred by prosecutors that studied the case file.

Prosecutors on Monday cleared four of the 10 politicians – former ministers Evangelos Venizelos, Andreas Lykouretzos and Georgios Koutroumanis, and former premier Panagiotis Pikrammenos.

The case still remains open for former New Democracy premier Antonis Samaras, former finance minister and current Bank of Greece Governor Yiannis Stournaras, European Union Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, former minister and current vice president of New Democracy Adonis Georgiadis and former minister Marios Salmas, though judicial sources clarified that no evidence has emerged that they received bribes or violated the law. At least four of them are expected to be cleared by the end of April at the latest.

The only name that remains in the case file is that of former PASOK health minister Andreas Loverdos, with judicial sources stressing that in his case there has been no evidence to suggest that he received bribes.

Responding to demands for his immunity from prosecution to be lifted by lawmakers, Loverdos on Monday dismissed the case as a “vile and stinking plot” and an act of “political hooliganism” hatched up by a “gang of criminals.”

“The Novartis scandal is the other way around. It concerns those who organized the frame-up; the biggest and most ill-conceived political frame-up of the past few decades,” Venizelos said on Monday.

The gradual collapse of the case is seen as a blow to SYRIZA, which had hoped to see its flagging popularity boosted ahead of local and European elections next month, and general elections after that.

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