Greek prosecutors drop another inquiry in Novartis bribery case, but 3 remain open

Greece’s prosecutors have found no reason to investigate the country’s central bank chief Yannis Stournaras over bribery claims that involve Novartis. (Pixabay)

Allegations that Novartis bribed top Greek officials may look even flimsier now that prosecutors have decided to toss out yet another line of inquiry. But the case isn’t dead yet.

Greece’s corruption prosecutor Eleni Touloupaki found no reason to continue investigating the country’s central bank chief Yannis Stournaras over bribery claims that involve Novartis, The Associated Press reported. Stournaras, the Bank of Greece governor, is the seventh of 10 top government officials to be cleared in the case, including two former prime ministers.

However, Touloupaki is now seeking parliamentary approval to investigate former health minister Andreas Loverdos, the news site Kathimerini reported, even though previous reports said investigators had found no evidence of his accepting bribes. The case also remains open for Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis and EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, according to the local newspaper.

The probe stemmed from whistleblower allegations that Novartis had paid officials millions of euros to boost the sales of its drugs and maintain favorable pricing in Greece.

But since the alleged scandal broke early 2018, it has turned into a political farce. The former administration led by radical left party Syriza—which initiated the probe—called the case “the biggest scandal” in modern Greek history, while those standing accused have called it “the most ruthless and ridiculous conspiracy theory ever” and a crusade against political opponents.

No evidence suggesting the officials took bribes has been unearthed and presented to the public so far. Novartis in March also said its internal investigation found no trace of any inappropriate payments made to Greek officials.

RELATED: Novartis, aiming to clean up its rep, sets aside $700M for kickback settlement

In the meantime, a separate disciplinary investigation is looking into whether Touloupaki’s team mishandled the Novartis inquiry, namely whether the prosecutors were under political pressure to implicate those 10 people.

The Novartis name isn’t of impeccable reputation, either. The Swiss drugmaker has set aside $700 million in the hopes of settle a U.S. doctor kickback suit that alleges the company used speaker programs, fancy dinners and other promotional events to bribe doctors.

More recently, the company’s AveXis unit has been embroiled in a data fabrication scandal. Falsified animal testing data were included in the drug application package used to win FDA approval for spinal muscular atrophy gene therapy Zolgensma. Delays in the company launching an official probe after receiving whistleblower allegations—and in informing the FDA after internal confirmation—have drawn criticism. On top of that, the FDA has said it’s looking into possible civil or criminal penalties against Novartis.