Greece Wants Novartis Bribe Damages, Some Beyond Law’s Reach


(Photo by Eurokinissi/ Michalis Karagiannis)

ATHENS -- As Greece said it will seek financial compensation from Swiss drugmaker Novartis after a United States probe claimed the firm paid off Greek doctors to help boost business, some physicians can’t be prosecuted because too much time has passed.

The doctors, who were not named, committed offenses that likely have expired under the statute of limitations that precludes prosecutions after a certain period of time, but New Democracy government spokesman Stelios Petsas said damages to the state are open.

He said the decision by American authorities didn’t find, as was claimed by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA, that any rival politicians took bribes, the Leftists claiming 10 did based on the word of three alleged whistleblowers who couldn’t produce any evidence.

Seven of the politicians, from New Democracy and it former coalition partner, the now-defunct PASOK Socialists that went belly-up after supporting austerity measures antithetical its its alleged principles, have already been cleared.

Petsas said the finding “demolishes the conspiracy set up by SYRIZA against its political rivals and exposes its leadership, and ... fully vindicates the positions expressed from the outset by Kyriakos Mitsotakis, both as main opposition leader and as prime minister.” 

SYRIZA “did nothing to expose those who really harmed the Greek state,” he added as former premier and Leftist leader Alexis Tsipras had said the Novartis case was “the biggest scandal since the creation of the modern Greek state.”

SYRIZA claimed that a reference to “officials” in the Department of Justice’s document concerns politicians as well as doctors at state hospitals but none were named and it wasn’t clear whether the word officials referred to those with Novartis or others.

The US Department of Justice said that Novartis Hellas will pay a $225 million criminal penalty for bribing doctors, hospitals and clinics to prescribe the company’s drugs and that from 2012-15 the company conspired to bribe employees of state-owned hospitals and clinics in Greece to buy more Novartis-branded drugs including Lucentis, which treats a form of age-related vision loss, said Kathimerini.

Novartis said “The resolutions contain no allegations relating to any bribery of Greek politicians, which is consistent with what Novartis found in its own internal investigation,” which didn’t admit wrongdoing involving doctors.From 2012-15, Novartis paid doctors to attend medical congresses in Greece and internationally, with per-doctor expenses sometimes exceeding $6,000 per trip, the document said, according to the site.

Novartis paid for airfare, hotels, and congress registration fees, and the company’s policies stated the trips were to provide medical information but the probe asserted it was a cover to “improperly influence” the Greek doctors to prescribe wet age-related macular degeneration drug Lucentis, media reports also said.