The Greek government yesterday promised a swift and thorough investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption involving Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis and members of the country’s civil service.
Justice Minister Stavos Kontonis said the probe, which was launched in November last year, would be speeded up after an executive from the pharma firm attempted suicide over the holiday period.
It has been reported that the unnamed employee tried to jump off the roof of a hotel on New Year’s Day, but was prevented from doing so by security guards.
The unidentified manager is said to be among a number Novartis workers suspected of paying bribes to government officials as part of a plot to boost sales of the company’s drugs in the country.
Detectives running a preliminary investigation into the allegations have questioned nearly 180 people over the past two months, a judicial source has been quoted as saying by the AFP news agency.
In a further development, Reuters reports this morning that police have raided Novartis’ Athens offices as part of their inquiries into the corruption allegations. An official said prosecutors were looking for evidence of bribery during the raid.
Responding to reports of the investigation from its headquarters in Switzerland, Novartis said in a statement that it was “aware of the media reports about our business practices”.
“We are fully cooperating with requests from local and foreign authorities. Novartis is committed to the highest standards of ethical business conduct and regulatory compliance in all aspects of its work and takes any allegation of misconduct extremely seriously,” the company said.
According to the domestic ANA-MPA news agency, authorities in Greece have requested assistance from the US Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, which have been investigating claims Novartis ran a kickback scheme for doctors in America which resulted in the government being overcharged for its products. The company disputes the allegations, which were filed in 2013.
Last March, a whistle-blower accused the drug giant of paying bribes to Turkish officials through a consulting firm as part of a conspiracy to secure business advantages worth an estimated $85 million (€81 million). Novartis has also denied these allegations, and said that it has received no contact from prosecutors in Turkey about the matter.
In April of last year, Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez said the firm had set aside funds to pay any penalties resulting from allegations of bribery, which he claimed were “legacy issues”.
Speaking with reports at the time, he said: “We have over 25,000 field sales representatives around the world, we train them very hard on compliance.
“Whenever we see any activity of bad behaviour, we swoop in and then we get rid of that behaviour – one way or another.”