Novartis promises quick action if Greek bribery allegations prove true but laments politicized probe

Novartis says that while it has still not received anything formal from authorities in the burgeoning investigation into allegations that its managers bribed Greek officials to buy drugs and fix prices, it will “accept responsibility” and act “decisively” if they prove true.

The promise comes as a Greek parliamentary committee is this week initiating its own probe into allegations that 10 former ministers in the country were involved in a bribery scheme which dates back a decade. The FBI is also reported to have jumped into the fray.

“We are determined to fully understand the situation and accept responsibility for any actions that fell below our high standards of ethical business conduct,” Novartis said today in an statement shared by a company spokesman. “If any wrongdoing is found we will take fast and decisive action and do everything possible to prevent future misconduct.”

The company said that it is aware of reports that Greek and U.S. authorities are investigating, and that it is doing its own internal probe, but can’t comment on ongoing investigation and won’t comment on speculation in the media, “which appears driven in large part by the selective leaking of portions of a confidential and preliminary investigative file.”

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The reports in Greek media have indicated the investigation was set in motion more than a year ago by testimony from three unidentified Novartis employees. Among their allegations are that Greece’s health minister from 2006 to 2009 took €40 million ($49 million) in exchange for ordering “a huge amount” of Novartis products, while the health minister working between 2009 and 2010 allegedly accepted €120,000 ($147,000) from the company and laundered it through a computer hardware firm.

There is also an allegation that a Novartis’ vice president in Greece delivered a suitcase full of large-denomination euro bills to a former prime minister in exchange for him fixing the prices of drugs bought from the company by Greece.

Much of this is alleged to have happened while the country was facing financial collapse. The New York Times reported that Greek prosecutors have estimated that with the bribes estimated to be in the millions of euros, the loss to the country could have been in the billions.

RELATED: Novartis to pay $50M, lose some drug coverage in Korean bribery probe

Novartis has faced bribery accusations before, paying $25 million to U.S. authorities in 2016 to settle a bribery investigation in China and last year paying a $50 million fine in Korea for allegedly bribing doctors there to pump up sales. Following that scandal it said it was strengthening and simplifying its global ethics and compliance approach.

The Swiss drugmaker reiterated today, however, that despite all of the “sensational claims,” in the Greek probe, neither it nor any of its employees have received anything formal from Greek prosecutors, the FBI or the Greek parliament.

“At the same time, publicity around, the case has included many sensational and unfounded claims in a politicized debate of which Novartis should not be a part, often directed with little or no sensitivity at our employees,” the company said in its statement. “We believe this is highly inappropriate and will defend our people and company against these claims."