ATHENS – Former New Democracy leader and one-time Premier Costas Karamanlis quickly scrambled to back away from his former government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros who had suggested the party’s Vice-President was tied to an alleged pharmaceutical scandal involving the Swiss company Novartis.
People close to Karamanlis said Antonaros was giving only a personal, not a political opinion about Adonis Georgiadis, a former health minister, Kathimerini said without identifying them.
As other New Democracy stalwarts distanced themselves from Antonaros, one of Karamanlis’ closest aides, the moves were seen as a way to to prevent any dissension in the party as it has taken big leads in polls over the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who is reeling after beating the Conservatives twice in 2015.
New Democracy chief Kyriakos Mitsotakis had moved swiftly earlier, booting Antonaros from the party where he used to be its mouthpiece for public comments but now finds himself on the outs.
New Democracy Member of Parliament Kostas Achilleas Karamanlis, a cousin of the former prime minister, is expected to publicly confirm that Antonaros’ comments do not reflect the ex-Greek leader’s views, the paper said, without him saying why he’s waiting.
Another member of the former Karamanlis government, Theodoros Roussopoulos, also kept his distance from Antonaros. “We disagree in our political evaluation,” Roussopoulos told SKAI radio.
In dumping Antonaros, unnamed party sources told the Athens News Agency that it had to happen to prevent political fallout and damage.
“As Kyriakos Mitsotakis has publicly stated from the outset, he wants to shed light on this particular case. With this in mind, it is inconceivable that some party members play games for personal profit, questioning the possibility of innocence. Especially when it is obvious that the government is manufacturing accusations,” they said.
Mitsotakis has to deal with a remaining cache of Karamanlis aides in the party as it’s trying to keep a unified front in the next elections with SYRIZA, scheduled for 2019 unless snap polls are held sooner.
Ten political rivals of SYRIZA were tied to an investigation of charges by secret witnesses that they were paid 50 million euros ($61.59 million) in help Novartis fix prices and flu shots, all vehemently denied.
They include former Premier and previous New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras and party stalwart Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European Commission’s migration chief.
The witnesses in the case were said to be changing their stories and critics and some of those named said SYRIZA is just making up the case to distract attention from its failures.