Greek official: 'Thousands' of people implicated in Novartis bribery probe

The public drama surrounding an investigation into alleged bribes by Novartis to sell more drugs in Greece entered a new act today as the country’s justice minister told a state news agency the drugmaker likely bribed “thousands” of government officials and doctors to push its meds. The claims came a week after Greece’s top corruption prosecutor resigned citing backlash from her bribery probe into Novartis.

Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis told ANA radio a “great number” of the country’s officials and doctors were involved in the scheme “to promote drugs in an illegal and anti-scientific manner,” according to Medical Xpress. From what he’s seen, Kontonis said, “it must be thousands who were directly bribed from Switzerland,” the report says.

A Novartis spokeswoman said the company "heard that he made this comment on the radio, so it’s not necessarily an official development that we could comment or speculate on." She pointed out that Greek authorities have only contacted the company through two visits from a prosecutor in December and January, and that the drugmaker hasn't received "any form of indictment or subpoena."

"Nevertheless we’re fully cooperating with requests from local and foreign authorities," she said.

RELATED: Greece’s corruption prosecutor quits, citing pressure over Novartis bribery probe

The development comes shortly after the country’s top corruption prosecutor, Eleni Raikou, stepped down from her post following a weekly newspaper’s decision to publish a negative article about her. In a letter to Greece’s Supreme Court, Raikou claimed that “corrupt state officials … did not hesitate to plan my moral extermination so that they might be able to demolish our investigation,” according to local reports.

The case in Greece went public early this year, when authorities raided Novartis’ offices there and announced the probe, reportedly after a Novartis local manager threatened suicide. It was the fourth set of bribery allegations against the Swiss drugmaker to spring up in a year.

RELATED: Greek prosecutors raid Novartis offices, disclose wide-ranging probe into bribery allegations

The investigation runs parallel to a Novartis probe in South Korea, where authorities last month banned sales of three drugs for three months while reportedly weighing “tougher” punitive measures. Novartis disputed the latter claim, reported by local media outlet The Investor. Novartis said it isn’t aware any decision is “imminent.”

In South Korea, the company is alleged to have paid doctors who attended medical journal meetings to boost sales. Elsewhere, a whistleblower in Turkey levied another set of corruption allegations against the drug giant last year, again alleging bribery to amp up sales. Novartis on Friday said internal and external investigations determined the Turkey allegations were "unsubstantiated."

"We’re not aware of any government authority investigating Novartis in Turkey and now consider this matter closed," a spokesperson said.

RELATED: Novartis faces legal action in Korea after exec indictments, including possible suspension

The company also settled on a $25 million payment to U.S. authorities last year to dismiss a separate bribery investigation in China.

But the drugmaker is not alone in this realm. Peers including GlaxoSmithKline, Teva and AstraZeneca have each paid millions in recent years to settle bribery allegations in countries around the world.