ATHENS – With Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras’ claims that 10 political rivals had taken bribes from the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis falling apart after prosecutors couldn’t find evidence, the targets have struck buck.
The major opposition New Democracy, leading big in polls in an election year, said what they called a fake scandal was fabricated last year by the government to divert attention from a fiercely-protested deal Tsipras made to give away the name of the province of Macedonia to the newly-named North Macedonia, and as he kept plunging in surveys after four years of reneging in anti-austerity vows.
The case had begun some two years earlier and was based on claims by three secret whistleblowers who said they had heard the 10 politicians had taken money to help Novrtis fix prices and control the market in Greece but no evidence has been produced.
One of the witnesses was revealed after being stopped at the airport trying to get to Spain and the stories of the other two were said to keep changing. A fourth unidentified witness has recently come forth.
“Panic-stricken by the public rallies against the name deal 14 months ago, the government fabricated what it purports to be the biggest scandal since the foundation of the Greek state,” New Democracy spokeswoman, Sofia Zacharaki, said, rejecting the government’s plan as an attempt to “disparage 10 of its political rivals,” said Kathimeini.
SYRIZA SAYS SCANDAL REAL
That was in response to SYRIZA government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos continuing to say the scandal was real, despite a lack of evidence and prosecutors shelving cases against four of the accused and said ready to drop charges against five more from a list that included two ex-prime ministers.
Tzanakopoulos said the case had “completely terrified the powers of the old establishment and led to reactions that are indicative of its mentality. The very same people who verbally defend the independence of the judicial authorities … have not hesitated… to speak of fabrications and fixed trials,” saying New Democracy and the former PASOK was trying to intimidate prosecutors to step aside, without saying how or why.
Prosecutors cleared former ministers Evangelos Venizelos, Andreas Lykouretzos and Georgios Koutroumanis, and former premier Panagiotis Pikrammenos.
The case still remains open for former New Democracy premier Antonis Samaras, former finance minister and current Bank of Greece Governor Yiannis Stournaras, European Union Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, former minister and current vice president of New Democracy Adonis Georgiadis and former minister Marios Salmas.
Media reports said they too would soon have the cases against them set aside although some said they would sue.
The only one still in the case file sent to Parliament seeking his immunity be lifted is former PASOK health minister Andreas Loverdos, although judicial sources not named told the paper there’s no evidence against him either.
He said the case was a “vile and stinking plot” and an act of “political hooliganism” hatched up by a “gang of criminals.”
Loverdos said he wants Parliament to lift his testimony so he can testify before an anti-corruption prosecutor investigating allegations of price-fixing in favor of Novartis’ Greek subsidiary.
THE PLOT THICKENS
The allegations against Loverdos, included in a voluminous prosecutor’s file conveyed to Parliament, were based on the claims of four whistleblowers, three of whose identities remain secret under law.
“Wretchedness, conspiracy and shameless lies,” he began a news conference where he blamed SYRIZA for conducting a political witch hunt so that Tsipras could try to save his own hide and claw his way back to power with polls showing he will be routed.
Loverdos – an attorney and law professor – said SYRIZA was behind what he called a judicial plot against its political rivals.He was the only one of the 10 for which the anti-corruption prosecutor requested testimony – in a capacity as a suspect in a wrongdoing – to answer more questions related to the allegations and ongoing investigation, media reports said.
With prosecutors said to find no evidence in Loverdos’ bank accounts showing he took bribes, he lashed out at the government and the investigation.
“I have no money, that’s why they (prosecutors and magistrates) couldn’t find even a euro, and even though they searched me, my underage children, my relatives and my associates. At the same time they did not publicize these results,” he said, adding:
“In Parliament and in my lawsuits against the hooded perjurers I demolished all of the slanderous charges made by these miserable criminals. From the (latest) case file sent to Parliament what emerges is that the supplementary depositions were given until April 4, a week ago,” he said, promising legal action against the “pseudo witnesses” and what he said were the perpetrators of a scheme to get him.
He served as Health Minister from September, 2010 until May, 2012, taking over for
Mariliza Xenogiannakopoulou, who left PASOK in 2012 and now serves as an out-of-Parliament minister in Tsipras’ Cabinet.
Tsipras had singled out former PASOK members and ministers as being corrupt – except for
Xenogiannakopoulou – although she served in the same period covered by the probe but no serves him.
Venizelos – a Constitutional law professor – said SYRIZA and Tsipras had tried to conduct
The “biggest and ill-prepared conspiracy over the past decades” in Greece, mocking the government’s claims the Novartis case was the biggest scandal ever in the country.
He was cleared by the prosecutor but had earlier said he, too, would bring suit to clear his name against libel and slander. “The Novartis scandal is the other way around. It concerns those who organized the frame-up; the biggest and most ill-conceived political frame-up of the past few decades,” Venizelos said.
“I had stated, from the beginning, that the Novartis scandal is in reserve. It affects those who organized this plot … this reverse scandal is huge and self-evident. It is an insult to our form of government, and as such, we do not have the right to downgrade or forget it. It does not affect those personally offended but democracy and the rule of law,” he added.