ATHENS – The government-controlled Greek Parliament was sent a report by anti-corruption prosecutors said to link 10 politicians, including two former Premiers, to the scandal involving the Swiss-based Novartis pharmaceutical companies amid critics’ cries it was spurious and engineered to distract attention from the FYROM name feud.
With the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA claiming it was the biggest scandal ever, it reportedly named only opposition rivals, including former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras from the major rival new Democracy and interim-Premier Panayiotis Pikrammenos, who only served for one month.
Reports said it was based on the testimony of unnamed witnesses put into a protection program and who offered almost no evidence to back up their claims other than their assertions that bribes were paid so that the Swiss company could sell flu vaccines.
The case file is sealed and Members of Parliament are only allowed to read it in a special room before they decide whether to lift immunity for those said to be involved and as a furor arose that government officials were unlawfully briefed by prosecutors, Kathimerini and the business newspaper Naftemporiki reported.
The witnesses also reportedly alleged that the affluent Samaras had received a suitcase packed with 500-euro notes, while alleging that Pikrammenos received 100,000 euros ($123,498) without said to have offered any proof or demonstrate a chain of money had been distributed although Novartis was said to be cooperating with Greek prosecutors.
In a statement, Samaras referred to “the most ruthless and ridiculous conspiracy ever,” adding that he will take legal action against Tsipras and Alternate Justice Minister Dimitris Papangelopoulos.
Pikrammenos also dismissed the allegations. “I have no connection to the Novartis pharmaceutical scandal, neither me personally, nor the caretaker government that served from May to June 2012,” he said.
The protected witnesses alleged that with euros was handed out as bribe money for the purchase of hundreds of thousands of anti-flu vaccinations and reportedly implicated the European Commissioner in charge of migration, New Democracy’s Dimitris Avramopoulos, Bank of Greece Governor Yannis Stournaras, who served as finance minister in a previous New Democracy government and is a constant target of SYRIZA criticism, as well as another former finance minister, Evangelos Venizelos, the former leader of the now-defunct but once-dominant PASOK Socialists who morphed into an amalgamation of smaller center-left political parties.
Avramopoulos and Venizelos dismissed the charges as absurd and groundless. “It contains no evidence against anyone,” Venizelos, a Constitutional Law professor said of the case file that was presented after SYRIZA and Tsipras came under heat for moving ahead with plans to let the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia keep the name Macedonia in a new composite, a move which drew hundreds of thousands of protesters in two rallies.
Critics also said that government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, who has no standing legally, was unlawfully briefed by prosecutors at the Supreme Court but he was backed by Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis, a Tsipras appointee, after allegations the scandal involved kickbacks of 50 million euros ($61.75 million) but didn’t stipulate the value of the vaccines.
The case file was also said to have evidence supplied by US authorities but none of that was detailed by the prosecutor or government, who were working hand-in-hand.