Greece files a lawsuit against Novartis to seek financial compensation for a corruption scheme

Greece will seek financial compensation for a Novartis corruption scandal that involved two former prime ministers of the country.

Novartis building

Greece filed a lawsuit against Novartis seeking financial compensation for unfair commercial practices, the minister of Health Thanos Plevris announced on May 13.

The New Democracy government “is taking all measures to hold Novartis accountable and compensate the Greek state for its illegal practices,” the minister stated.

The Swiss pharmaceutical company has been involved in a corruption scandal in Greece where it bribed government officials and doctors from state-owned and state-controlled hospitals and clinics to sell more of their medicine.

Dimitris Papagelopoulos, former deputy minister of Justice in Alexis Tsipras’s government, said in 2018 it was the “biggest scandal since the creation of the Greek state”. Mr. Papagelopoulos, a member of Syriza, the governing party between 2015 and 2019, is charged on eight counts for having interfered with investigations of the public prosecutor in order to protect politicians involved in the case.

Ten politicians have been charged with bribery in the Novartis scheme that took place between 2006 and 2015. Among them, two former prime ministers from the New Democracy party Antonis Samaras and Panagiotis Pikrammenos, the latter only served a few weeks as PM, and seven former ministers.

The minister of Health’s decision to sue Novartis on behalf of the state of Greece was made in collaboration with the minister of Finance Chrístos Staïkoúras and the minister of Justice Konstantínos Tsiáras who essentially followed the suggestions made by the Council of State. It advised taking any actions necessary to seek reparation from Novartis for financial and non-financial damages to the state because of the company’s illegal actions.

A negotiating committee has also been set up by the minister to reach a financial settlement. The lawsuit is the first step to negotiating compensation. The minister also appointed a law firm in the United States to gather all information related to previous indictments.

Indeed, Novartis Greece was charged in the United States under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which applies to foreign companies that carry out improper payments on American territory, for the corruption scheme and for violating book records to conceal bribes.

Novartis Greece admitted to having paid for trips and congresses in the United States to state-run hospital and clinic employees between 2012 and 2015 in exchange for increasing the number of prescriptions for a drug Novartis Greece sold. Novartis also admitted that between 2009 and 2010 it used an epidemiological study as a vehicle to pay healthcare professionals who provided data for the sole purpose to increase sales of certain Novartis-branded prescription drugs. Novartis Greece employees recognized that many participating healthcare providers believed that they were being paid in exchange for writing prescriptions of Novartis products and not for providing data as part of a clinical study, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Novartis agreed to pay $112 million and $233 million in 2020 in order to settle charges in the U.S.

The scheme also involved professionals in Vietnam and South Korea, but only in Greece did it reach public representatives of a country.

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