GR US

Greek Novartis Case Whistleblowers, Seeking Reward, Gave Testimony to US

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FILE - Greece’s lawmakers voted and approved a probe into an alleged scandal in which prosecutors allege that 10 politicians took bribes from the pharmaceutical company Novartis. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Yorgos Kontarinis)

ATHENS – With nine of 10 political rivals accused by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of taking bribes from the Swiss drug company Novartis cleared of any wrongdoing, two secret whistleblowers talked to US authorities in the case, Greece's chief prosecutor said.

The alleged scandal has unraveled but keeps persisting although there's no evidence beyond claims by three whistleblowers, one of whom was unmasked when stopped at the international airport trying to get to Spain.

The whistleblowers repeated their assertions to the US Justice Department in an apparent attempt to get payments from laws there offering bounties to people whose testimony leads to prosecutions of wrongdoers, said Kathimerini.

The newspaper identified them by the code names Maximos Sarafis, and Ekaterini Kelesi, producing an Oct. 8 document called confidential and was tied to an American investigation of Novartis which denied trying to bribe Greek politicians.

The head of the special anti-corruption prosecutor's office, Eleni Touloupaki said information given US investigators couldn't be used, the paper said, reporting she claimed the two witnesses had "access to documentation that proves bribery, on the part of Novartis, involving Greek officials ... By exploiting the specific information we succeeded in at least identifying at least one of the two individuals, which we then designated as a protected witness in our process ... with the code name 'Maximos Sarafis'." She hasn't produced any evidence though.

The name of the other Greek witness in US justice department documents is also cited by Touloupaki, with the same date and her references were sent to the to the Greek Supreme Court prosecutor's office showing how they came to be protected secret whistleblowers.

Her two-year investigation has not led to any prosecutions and become a maelstrom in Greek politics with wild accusations flying all over the place and a parliamentary committee looking into whether former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA former alternate justice minister Dimitris Papangelopoulos denying charges by a former anti-corruption prosecutor he intervened into an alleged scandal to wrongly implicate political rivals, including two former Premiers and Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras said it was “laughable” that three prosecutors said he threatened protected whistleblowers in an alleged scandal.

Eleni Raikou, who resigned in 2017 after complaining the former government, which then included the Independent Greeks (ANEL) pressured her over the Novartis case, presented evidence to Supreme Court deputy prosecutor Lambros Sofoulakis, looking into the case that has unraveled, with nine targets already cleared.

She told Sofoulakis that Papangelopoulos “exploited his political power, in the manner of a pimp,” to “dictate how certain important cases needed to be handled” and “demanding in some cases that criminal charges be brought at once,” sources not named told Kathimerini.

He said that wasn’t true. “In her letter of resignation, Mrs. Raikou didn’t mention anything about me. On the contrary, she spoke about finding 28 million euros ($30.77 million) of ‘dirty’ money, possibly even (given) to politicians,” Papangelopoulos said in a statement, continuing to push SYRIZA claims the scandal was real.

All three anonymous witnesses apparently claimed that Novartis Greece's ex-vice president, Konstantinos Frouzis, coordinated and oversaw payments to politicians, with caches of euros sometimes transported in carrier luggage but gave no evidence.

Touloupaki, has never summoned Frouzis to offer clarifications, answer questions or give official testimony, either as a material witness or as a suspect in alleged wrongdoing.

The other whistleblower, Nikos Maniadakis, a former Health Ministry adviser, testified before a Supreme Court prosecutor that he was squeezed by prosecutors he refused to name – it’s common in Greece for charges to be made without identifying anyone.

Several of the politicians targeted have sued to seek the names of their accusers that were protected under Greece’s whistleblower law but Maniadakis, said Kathimerini, testified to prosecutor Evangelos Zacharis, “I didn’t see, participate in or know of any illegal acts by politicians,” recanting his own previous story.

He said was pressured to name former New Democracy leader and previous Premier Antonis Samaras, former health minister Adonis Georgiadis and Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras. There was no word whether Maniadakis would now be prosecuted for that.

Earlier this year Maniadakis was charged with accepting bribes from the Swiss drugs firm as payment for influencing Greek health policies. His lawyer, Theodoros Mandas, described his client’s going from a protected witness to a defendant as  “erroneous and incomprehensible.”