Greek govt alleges official ties to drug bribery scandal

By Health CareAssociated Press

Greece's government said Monday it has been handed evidence that senior politicians from the previous administration were involved in a bribery case in which Swiss drugmaker Novartis is accused of making illegal payments to fix prices and increase market access.

Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis said documents from an investigation would be forwarded to parliament Tuesday. The minister's deputy described the allegations as "the biggest scandal since the creation of the modern Greek state."

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Kontonis said the scale of illegal practices has "caused annual state expenditure on medicine to explode."

He did not identify the 10 politicians allegedly implicated. But several officials named by private and state-run news media in Greece issued statements late Monday denying any involvement in the Novartis case. Among them were former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and Yannis Stournaras, the former finance minister and current Bank of Greece governor.

"When we are talking about scandals that involve medicine, the moral implications are enormous," Kontonis said after meeting with Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. "At a time of financial crisis and recession, when it's difficult for our poorer fellow citizens to find the drugs they need for their health, there were certain drugmakers who in an illegal and provocative way, worked to provide drugs at inflated prices and used state officials in the National Health Service to make sure certain drugs available where they should not have been."

The investigation covered alleged bribery between 2006 and 2015, and according to Greek officials included several trips by Greek investigators to the United States to seek assistance from the FBI.

Although politicians are shielded from prosecution by parliamentary immunity and strict statutes of limitation, they are liable to prosecution for money-laundering offences — a tactic frequently used in the past by public prosecutors.

Late Monday, former conservative Prime Minister Samaras, who served from June 2012 to January 2015, said in a statement that he had been targeted in a politically motivated attack.

"I have been informed of the (prime minister's) latest effort to slander me," he said. "But slander is the weapon of cowards ... Those behind this attack will answer for their actions in court."

In a statement emailed to The Associated Press, Novartis said: "We are aware of media reports relating to our business practices in Greece. We continue to cooperate with requests from local and foreign authorities. Novartis has not received any form of indictment or subpoena."

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Derek Gatopoulos on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dgatopoulos

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