ATHENS – Despite reports there’s little evidence to back up claims that 10 Greek politicians from rival parties were bribed by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis, a Parliament committee controlled by the government will take up the case.
After delaying following reports that the case was based on the vague and changing testimonies of secret witnesses who were in a protection program and weren’t named, Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras gave the go-ahead for the investigation even though he and others in the party aren’t supposed to be privay to details of the prosecutor’s case.
Tsipras, who rivals said was trying to create a distraction from his handling of the economic crisis and plans to let the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) keep the word Macedonia in a new composite name, went ahead even though Kathimerini and other media reports said he was briefed there’s not enough evidence to secure indictments.
The major rival New Democracy party, whose former leader and previous Premier Antonis Samaras – who said he would sue over the accusations – was among those named in the probe, said it would back the investigation but only “without witnesses in masks,” making unverified claims critics said were made up.
New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis denounced the government for “slandering an entire party” (New Democracy) using the testimony of anonymous witnesses, demanding the accusers be revealed and appear before Parliament.
With the Conservatives holding big leads in polls after Tsipras reneged on anti-austerity promises, Mitsotakis said that the Premier “ is trying to save himself in the only way he knows by slandering his political opponents and dividing citizens,” increasing the heat.
Another New Democracy veteran named in the alleged scandal, European Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos spoke of “conspiracy” and “slander” and said he would ask the Supreme Court to lift the protective status of witnesses and reveal their identity. He contested the legality of the witnesses’ statements.
An outraged Avramopoulos said the charges were political fabrications without foundation. He said the case was “unsubstantiated” and “full of holes,” adding that, “It’s very clear that this is an unprecedented plot, which would not stand in any other European Union country.”
Former finance minister Evangelos Venizelos, a renowned Constitutional lawyer who had led the now-defunct PASOK Socialists who are SYRIZA rivals, demanded proof from prosecutors that the witnesses’ protected status had been approved by the Supreme Court.
Chief corruption prosecutor Eleni Touloupaki, as well as prosecutors Christos Dzouras and Stelios Manolis, said in a joint statement the witnesses were placed under protected status in strict accordance with the law.
The prosecutors though denied reports that they took part in a meeting with government officials about the Novartis case to unlawfully give information about an ongoing investigation as they were scrambling to find some evidence to back up the unsupported claims some 50 million euros ($61.23 million) was handed out by Novartis to be the provider of flu shots and fix prices over a decade.
The government – which isn’t supposed to have access to the information – said that the politicians were paid off so that Novartis could boost subscriptions of their products at public hospitals and sale prices.
Parliament got the case because under Greek law politicians can not be prosecuted and have protection from crimes unless their immunity is lifted.
The former Vice President of Novartis’s Greek office, Constantinos Frouzis, who called the story a “gross farce” was expected to be summoned by an investigating magistrate and Switzerland’s Federal Office of Justice confirmed it received two requests for legal assistance from Greece and the United States over the case.