Greek Political System Goes to War over Novartis Case



A fierce battle is expected to take place in the Greek parliament on Wednesday as political leaders speak and vote on the formation of a special committee on the Novartis case.

Indicative of the intentions of the 10 political figures allegedly involved in the Novartis scandal is a statement made by PASOK lawmaker Andreas Loverdos.

Speaking on SKAI television on Tuesday, the former health minister — accused by three protected witnesses of receiving huge bribes — called Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras a “gang leader” who orchestrated the whole thing to slander his opponents.

There are many procedural “holes” in the proposals made by the SYRIZA-ANEL administration regarding Wednesday’s vote on whether a parliamentary committee should be formed or not.

Tsipras proposed 10 different ballot boxes, one for each political figure accused. The opposition New Democracy party suggested only one ballot box for all 10 parties involved. In fact, the main opposition threatened to abstain from the vote if 10 ballot boxes are used.

New Democracy lawmaker Kostas Tzavaras told SKAI radio on Tuesday that the government proposed the ballot boxes in an effort to make a show out of the whole procedure, based on the “bread and circuses” principle.

Suspicious timing

The whole case regarding the Swiss pharmaceuticals giant has been presented by the Greek administration as part of a wider effort to battle corruption.

Unfortunately for Tsipras and his party, the timing he chose was the wrong one. Just one day after the massive protest rally against the use of the term ‘Macedonia’ in the name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the government played the Novartis card to throw a smokescreen to cover its defeat.

After downplaying the number of the people participating and calling protesters a “mob”, “nationalists” and “fascists” as well as overemphasizing the presence of some New Democracy members in the rally, the next day, out of the blue, came the Novartis “scandal”.

In fact, the last testimony of one of the three witnesses was allegedly given the night of the rally, Feb. 4.

Tsipras called the case, “the biggest scandal since the inception of the Greek state, worse than the Siemens scandal”.

Naturally, New Democracy and PASOK dismissed the allegations as a smear campaign of a government that is trailing behind in the polls and whose popularity is on the slide.

Indeed, polls show that about 60 percent of Greeks are against the use of the term Macedonia in the FYROM name and accuse the government of selling out.

Also, what hurt the Tsipras administration the most was that the rally was a citizens’ show of discontent with the government. There is unhappiness over the austerity imposed and the handling of national affairs, whether that has to do with the territorial claims by Turkey in the Aegean, Albania with the Chams issue or the usurping of Greek history by Skopje.

The effort to hurt the main opposition using the Novartis case at a time when Greece faces national problems from three neighboring countries is too obvious.

At this point in time, the last thing the average Greek citizen cares about is whether a health minister of 10 years ago was taking kickbacks by a pharmaceuticals company, as if bribery of public officials for public works or procurements is not the norm in Greece.

It is not impossible that some of the people on the list received a kickback or two, but the amounts mentioned are too extraordinary to believe.

All government-friendly media, including public broadcaster ERT, have already “tried” the 10 “defendants” and decided they are guilty. Before the formation of the parliamentary investigation committee, the 10 politicians accused have “robbed billions of euros from the Greek people” through Novartis.

And like Tsipras himself said, the billions of Novartis are worth one bailout program.

But a SYRIZA member revealed the true intention behind the whole Novartis machination. Deputy Environment Minister Yiannis Tsironis said on SKAI television that even if only 10 names of New Democracy officials appear on the list, the scandal stigmatizes the whole party.

‘Holes’ in the Novartis case

There are so many holes and mishandlings in the Novartis case that it would not stand in any democratic state with a reliable justice system.

First of all, there is no solid evidence or just plain evidence to support the testimonies of the three witnesses. There are no bank account numbers that show suspicious transfers of money, no documents that show wrongdoing, no pictures of ‘dirty’ health ministers with Novartis staff.

In fact all the testimonies are guesses, presumptions and conjectures. According to leaks to the press, there is no hard evidence which proves the accused officials were bribed, much less so for the inflated amounts mentioned.

Several of the testimonies include phrases like: “I saw a company member giving a big suitcase full of cash to the minister. I guess there was no less than €100 million inside.”

Now, what minister in their right mind would go to the Novartis offices, get a suitcase full of cash and leave in plain sight?

What Novartis employee would do something as rash as to give a suitcase full of cash to a government official with other people present?

But then again, one of the basic principles of propaganda is that people swallow easier a big lie than a little lie. And, like good leftists, Tsipras and the people around him are excellent at propaganda techniques.

Another big hole, probably the biggest, in the manufactured scandal is the inclusion of former interim prime minister Panagiotis Pikrammenos on the list of people who received bribes from the Swiss pharmaceuticals company.

Pikrammenos was president of the Council of State, Greece’s highest administrative court, at the time he was asked to serve as interim prime minister.

He stayed in office for one month for the June 2012 elections. An interim prime minister has no executive power whatsoever since there is no cabinet in place. Why on earth would a pharmaceuticals company bribe a temporary official with no actual authority?

Then there is the handling of the case. The list of names of the former officials who were allegedly bribed by Novartis was tabled in parliament on Tuesday, Feb. 6 by the Supreme Court Prosecution Office.

The night before, government spokesman Dimitris Giannakopoulos was seen by reporters at the Supreme Court building. When asked if his presence there had to do with the Novartis case, Tzanakopoulos said he was at the Supreme Court Prosecution Office for “personal business”.

After the list of names was tabled in the House, government officials claimed that they did not know the identity of the three protected witnesses. The justice minister and his deputy especially, claimed ignorance of the witnesses’ identities. All SYRIZA officials denied allegations that they tried to manipulate or influence prosecutors.

Then came the outspoken – to put it mildly – Deputy Health Minister Pavlos Polakis who wrote on social media that the three witnesses are three former Novartis employees who were caught with a lot of undeclared money and were forced to “sing” (his word).

Maximos Mansion kept reiterating that the government knows nothing about the prosecutors’ investigation.

So, the administration one day claims that it doesn’t know who the witnesses are and the next it says that it does. One day it says that the whole investigation is carried out solely by the Supreme Court Prosecution Office and the next it claims that there are plenty of incriminating evidence and it is a matter of days before the corrupt perpetrators will be punished.

Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias stated on public television that if indeed the former New Democracy ministers are innocent, they have to prove their innocence.

But isn’t the work of the Supreme Court Prosecution to prove their guilt first? Or is it that Kotzias forgot that there is a separation between the executive and judicial authorities? As a former top member of the Greek Communist Party, Kotzias probably thinks that the two are intertwined.

Overall, the Novartis case appears like a sloppily orchestrated smear campaign against the conservative party which is likely going to be the winner of the next elections. And over a year now, the SYRIZA administration has been acting as if it is in an election campaign, slamming New Democracy for every wrong that happened in Greece in the past 40 years.

Instead of governing, Tsipras and his self-professed comrades act like the opposition party to the next would-be government.

As for the Novartis case, it looks like it is the last card Tsipras is playing to pretend that he is determined to fight corruption. Unfortunately for him, it is a bad card.


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