Greece’s ruling party seeks probe of alleged pharma scandal

February 12, 2018

FILE - In this file photo dated Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, Greek Prime minister Alexis Tsipras during discussions in Athens. In a formal request to parliament, on Monday Feb. 12, 2018, Prime Minister Tsipras' party launched the process for parliament to probe ten past administration officials, including two former prime ministers, for alleged money-laundering including possible bribes from Swiss drug-maker Novartis.(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, FILE)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s left-led government launched the process Monday for parliament to probe ten senior former officials — including two past prime ministers — for alleged money-laundering in connection with a major pharmaceutical bribery scandal.

In a formal request to Parliament, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza party cited testimonies from a judicial investigation into bribes Swiss drug-maker Novartis allegedly paid for years to boost sales and prices of its products at state hospitals.

The move, which targets several top opposition figures, heightens the stakes in an increasingly acrimonious face-off between the government and leading opposition parties, which accuse it of using the judiciary to further its political ends.

Under Greek law, all allegations concerning politicians must be reviewed by Parliament before lawmakers can authorize prosecutions.

The officials allegedly involved include current Bank of Greece governor Yannis Stournaras, EU Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos — a former health minister — former conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, and Panagiotos Pikramenos, a former caretaker prime minister.

All have denied the allegations.

Novartis has said it is cooperating with Greek authorities.

Syriza’s formal request concluded that allegations of bribery and breach of duty have expired under Greece’s statute of limitations. But it recommended that all ten should be investigated for alleged money laundering. That charge is not subject to a statute of limitations and, if proved in court, carries a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Novartis’ Greek branch said Monday that it would not comment on “rumors and accusations reproduced in the media that come from selective leaks of a confidential file” to which it is not party.

It added that the company is “prepared to understand in depth the facts of the case and commits to take action on potential acts that are not in line with our high moral corporate standards.”

Syriza’s request Monday cited testimony from anonymous, protected witnesses who claimed that Novartis set aside more than a million euros for bribes to Greek officials. It also quoted allegations from one of the witnesses that Samaras was handed a suitcase of cash by a senior Novartis official in Greece at the prime minister’s office in 2013.

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