Once a witness in Novartis scandal, former Greek adviser now charged with taking drugmaker's bribes

Novartis headquarters
A former protected witness in an alleged bribery case involving Novartis and Greek officials have now become a suspect. (Wikimedia Commons/Andrew/Flickr)

Once a protected witness in the alleged bribery case involving Novartis and former Greek officials, Nikos Maniadakis is now a suspect under a travel ban and is accused of taking €120,000 in bribes from the drugmaker.

The former Greek Health Ministry consultant who had advised several ministers had his passport confiscated as he reportedly tried to leave the country with his family, according to local newspaper eKathimerini, which cites judicial sources quoted by Greek media.

Previously one of the three unidentified witnesses assisting prosecutors in the kickback probe, Maniadakis has been charged with passive bribery after the other two witnesses said he accepted €120,000 from Novartis as payment for influencing Greece’s health policies. It's the latest development in a scandal that has gripped the country with a series of dramatic twists, turns and sudden revelations.

Novartis didn't immediately respond to a FiercePharma request for comment. But in an interview with local media outlet Skai on Wednesday, Maniadakis refuted the claims, saying he got into the witness protection program in the first place because he is innocent.

To make the situation messier, the academic and consultant said he was pressured by prosecutors to point fingers at former Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras, former ministers of finance Yannis Stournaras and health Adonis Georgiadis over alleged kickbacks from Novartis. Samaras and Stournaras have reportedly filed lawsuits against the protected witnesses.

Adopting a similar tone used by those accused politicians, Maniadakis said the charges against him are “politically motivated.”

RELATED: Novartis investors demand action amid 'swamp' of bribery allegations in Greece

Rising to public attention in early 2018, the scandal revolves around bribes Novartis allegedly paid to top government officials and doctors to win favorable pricing and boost orders of its products. So far, the accusations largely rest on accounts by the witnesses, but the brouhaha was enough to stir up investor concern at Novartis, and the drugmaker has promised action if any wrongdoing is found.

The escalation in Greece came shortly before news broke of Novartis' $1.2 million payment to President Donald Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen for what Novartis said was insight on the administration's U.S. healthcare policy. Ex-CEO Joe Jimenez and former general counsel Felix Ehrat have taken the blame for co-signing the notorious contract.

But those two were only the latest additions to a long list of scandals at Novartis. Others include data-tampering allegations in Japan dated years ago, doctor kickback accusations in South Korea and China, and U.S. Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission probes over Alcon's marketing practices in Russia and Asia.

In the face of a series of alleged ethical missteps, CEO Vas Narasimhan has elevated the company’s chief ethics position into the executive committee and named rebuilding trust and reputation as one of his top priorities for the company.