House panel for Novartis probe halted by leftist MPs

House panel for Novartis probe halted by leftist MPs

A parliamentary committee tasked with probing possible political interference in the Novartis investigation was forced to cancel a planned session on Thursday after two leftist SYRIZA MPs who had been barred from the panel turned up and refused to leave. 

Leftist MPs Pavlos Polakis and Dimitris Tzanakopoulos insisted on joining the panel even though the majority had previously decided to exempt them from the proceedings on the grounds that the two lawmakers are witnesses in the investigation and this poses a conflict of interests. 

Spyros Lappas, another SYRIZA MP on the panel, called for their reinstatement, describing their removal as “groundless, unconstitutional” and a violation of parliamentary regulations. 

Tzanakopoulos reportedly said he was present at the panel at the request of SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras and referred to an “unconstitutional and coup-like” proceedings. Polakis was also defiant, declaring, “We’ll be here again next time.”  

Their behavior prompted New Democracy’s MPs to walk out of the room, arguing that the procedure would be illegal if the two ousted lawmakers were permitted to attend. 

The panel is tasked with investigating whether former SYRIZA alternate justice minister Dimitris Papangelopoulos tried to influence the judicial inquiry into claims by anonymous witnesses that 10 officials in governments prior to that of SYRIZA’s had accepted bribes from the Novartis pharmaceutical firm. 

The committee on Thursday had been scheduled to question Konstantinos Frouzis, the former vice president and general manager of Novartis Greece and a key suspect in the original probe into whether the Swiss firm paid bribes to expand its share of the Greek market. 

In a related development Deputy Prime Minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos testified before deputy Supreme Court prosecutor Evangelos Zacharis, who is probing the judicial handling of the Novartis investigation.

A former president of the Council of State who briefly served as caretaker prime minister at the peak of Greece’s economic crisis in 2012, Pikrammenos is one of 10 Greek politicians who were implicated in the original Novartis probe, which has, however, failed to produce any incriminating evidence.

Pikrammenos’ testimony lasted for around three hours and he left without making any comments to reporters about its content.

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