After a loud, twenty-hour debate in Greek parliament, members voted to form a parliamentary committee that would investigate allegations that 10 top politicians– including two former prime ministers– took bribes from Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis.
Anonymous witnesses have come forward with what they claim is evidence that the governor of the Bank of Greece, Yannis Stournaras; Europe’s migration commissioner, Dimitris Avramopoulos (who was Minister of Health at one time) and the country’s former prime minister Antonis Samaras took millions of euros in bribes in exchange for preferential market treatment for Novartis products.
Every single one of the ten men accused of bribery have vehemently denied the allegations. Samaras even launched a defamation lawsuit against Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, while Stournaras, a former finance minister called the allegations “disgusting fabrications.”
Several argued they had been targeted as political enemies of the ruling leftwing Syriza party, which brought the case to parliament, calling it a political witch hunt.
Five of the accused belong to New Democracy, the main opposition party; three to the Socialist party PASOK; and two are unaligned.
A multi-partisan committee of 21 members of parliament will be created to sift through pages and pages of evidence and determine if wrong-doing took place. According to Greek law, the parliament must first investigate politicians before they face civil judicial prosecution.
The matter has created a media storm both in Greece, as well as abroad, with headlines in newspapers like The Washington Post and The New York Times.
A confidential report by prosecutors that was tipped off by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation alleged that bribes of as much as €50 million was paid to politicians between 2006 to 2015 to give Novartis products preferential treatment in Greece’s socialized medicine marketplace.
Thousands of doctors are also accused of malpractice as well, having received bribes and paid vacations for endorsing Novartis products to their patients.
Members of Tsipras’ Syriza party have described the alleged bribery scandal as the worst in modern Greek history.
Tsipras, on the floor of the parliament, promised that those guilty would face justice.
“We will not cover up (the scandal),” he said during the marathon debate. “The Greek people must learn who turned pain and illness into a means of enrichment.”
Novartis has been the subject of several bribery and corruption inquiries — in China, South Korea, Turkey and the United States — in the past three years.
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