Greek parliament cannot investigate Novartis case, committee says

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s parliament has no jurisdiction to investigate the role of 10 politicians in alleged bribes by Swiss drugmaker Novartis, a parliamentary committee has decided.

FILE PHOTO: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses lawmakers as Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis (top C) chairs a parliamentary session before a vote on setting up a special committee which will probe the role of ten politicians in a case which involves alleged bribery by Swiss drugmaker Novartis, in Athens, Greece, February 22, 2018. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo

Lawmakers had voted in favor of the investigation and parliament last month set up a committee to look into the case, in addition to a separate investigation of the Basel-based company after a raid a year ago of its offices in Athens.

Prosecutors are investigating allegations by witnesses that doctors and public officials accepted kickbacks.

Novartis said on Friday it was cooperating with Greek and U.S. authorities looking into the matter and conducting its own internal investigation.

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

At the same time, it added, publicity around the case has included “many sensational and unfounded claims in a politicized debate of which Novartis should not be a part”.

The socialist and conservative politicians who served between 2006 and 2015 have denied the allegations, saying they are a fabrication and a witch-hunt by the leftist-led government. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had urged parliament to investigate the case.

Greek ministers are protected from prosecution and under Greek law, parliament is the only institution that can investigate them or lift their immunity. Greek prosecutors referred the case to parliament in February.

The parliamentary committee that looked into the case was made up of 21 lawmakers - a majority of them from the ruling Syriza party. Its president, former shipping minister Theodoros Dritsas, submitted a report with its conclusions to Parliament Speaker Nikos Voutsis on Friday.

Dritsas said the committee was led to the conclusion that: “Parliament has no authority to proceed with the judicial investigation into the criminal acts of bribery for the politicians mentioned, or of money laundering.”

The report will be distributed to lawmakers and parliament is expected to discuss it in May.

The case has struck a nerve in crisis-hit Greece, which has slashed healthcare spending to shore up its finances.

Since 2015, Novartis has paid out hundreds of millions in settlements and fines as a result of kickback allegations in South Korea, the United States and China.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Editing by Mark Potter and Adrian Croft