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US Justice Department in Greece for Novartis scandal

Posted by moodhacker on February 5, 2017 at 9:55 AM

The more the US Justice and the FBI sheds light on the giant pharmaceutical scandal by its epicenter Greece, the more the leftist government of Alexis Tsipras SYRIZA party aim to gain the profit on the country's public opinion of this governement\s determination to fight for transparency on public affairs .

Greek and US investigators aim to determine the extent to which medicines of the Swiss pharma were overpriced,  according to Greek Justice Minister Stavros Kontonis who is working along with the US Justice Department on the investigation of the alleged corruption scandal of the  Switzerland  pharmaceutical company Novartis, the official Greek Justice announcement said on February 3, promoting his government's   involvement in the investigation.

But can really SYRZA take  the credit?

It's true the Novartis' scandal revelations come just on time for Greece's government , when Greece's preformance on fighting corruption has been internationally proved extremely poor, for the last year of their governance, at least . 

Greece worsened its  performance in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index  during  the one full year that Alexis Tsipras reigned , in 2016  (2015 was the year with double elections  in January and O ctober) , with the country dropping  to 69th place out of 167 countries, compared to the 58th place in corruption Index Greece had been in 2015.

But the truth about  any transparency concerning Novartis and the giant international  pharmaceutical industry's  practices in Greece, is that this governement did actually nothing about it, until the US reports for Novartis  knocked  its door.

The scandal of bribs and inflating prices in  the pharma industry, in general, was first dennounced, precisely, during the previous government of New Democracy back in 2012,  by the ND's  Health Minister of that time Marios Salmas as early as 2012. The minister had asked inspectors from his department to provide an expert opinion on corrupt business practices in the pharma industry but their report  was not particularly informative so investigations. didn;t move further .

It was only after the accusations were made against the Swiss company in recent days, the DW wrote on January 2017,  that Salmas spoke out and asked for an appointment with the corruption prosecutor Eleni Raikou, who is also looking into the Novartis case.

Two years ago, two  Novartis executives in Greece had given the US government documents indicating that more than 4,000 doctors were bribed in order to promote  the company’s products and boost prescriptions.

At this stage representatives from the US are expected in Athens to brief the Justice Minister on their findings thus far. Earlier this month Greek authorities sought the assistance of the US Justice Department, which, along with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), first launched an investigation into the NYSE-listed drugmaker two years ago.

 When asked about the investigation Greek Minister of Justice Kontonis said Greece has suffered significant losses at a time that poor Greeks lack access to medicines while pharmaceutical firms have increased their profits by between 25 and 30 percent.

Novartis’ reaction


Contacted by EurActiv, earlier in January  2017, a spokesperson of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis in Greece stated that the company was aware of media reports concerning its business practices in Greece and noted that it was actively seeking further information.


“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 emphasised.ne

Novartis, one of Switzerland’s largest pharmaceutical companies, was also the target of corruption investigations last year in Korea and Turkey.

EurActiv also asked the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA) for a comment, but we did not receive a reply in time for this article’s publication. It should be noted that  Novartis currently holds the Presidency of EFPIA.

A particularly controversial element is the question of whether the pharma giant paid bribes to Greek officials, politicians, and doctors in public hospitals. Whistleblowers have passed documents to the judicial authorities which are said to indicate that at least 4,000 people in Greece were targeted, and were given money or received other financial benefits. Lawyer Konstantina Fundea, a legal advisor to several Novartis employees in Greece, told DW that people who didn't go along with it were subjected to workplace harassment.


Not a surprise


For Yannis Natsis, Policy Coordinator at the European Public Health Alliance, the bribery allegations do not come as a surprise and he doubts that this is a practice limited to Greece only.


“Should these be confirmed, they will prove that the pharma industry is once again abusing its excessive power to buy influence and shape patients’ behavior,” he told EurActiv, stressing that it remains to be seen who was bribed aside from the doctors.


"Although Greece could be described as a bankrupt country, numerous medicines with exorbitant prices particularly in oncology are still reimbursed whereas that is not the case in other wealthier EU member states,” he said. Doctors in Greece have systematically shied away from criticising the high prices demanded by the industry.


“The above are telling and point to how effective the bribes may have been,” Natsis added.


The Maltese Presidency


Medicines’ affordability and accessibility have been under discussion for the last seventeen months in the EU Council and will also take center stage in Malta’s EU Presidency, which began on 1 January.


EU health ministers took timid steps last June to address the rising price of medicines, recognising that in many cases, market failures prevented drugs from reaching patients in need of treatment (See background).


In a recent interview with EurActiv, Maltese Health Minister Chris Fearne confirmed that the Council would like to see more transparency in the way that pharmaceutical companies negotiate with member states on medicines’ pricing,  Fearne said in an interview with EurActiv.

At the moment, individual member states and national purchasing authorities are more or less not allowed to share the prices they get among themselves.


“I think this is keeping prices high and there is a move even within the different member states to start talking about how we can introduce measures to make negotiations more transparent, something that might bring prices down and therefore make medicines more accessible to patients,” Fearne noted.


the background


In June 2016, EU Health Ministers stressed that patients’ access to effective and affordable essential medicines was endangered by “very high and unsustainable price levels, market withdrawal of products that are out-of-patent, or when new products are not introduced to national markets for business economic strategies and that individual governments have sometimes limited influence in such circumstances”.


Member states have the full competence to decide which medicinal products are reimbursed and at what price, while the European Commission is exclusively responsible for the competition of medicinal products on the EU market.




sources: ANA-MPA, DW, Euractif

Categories: Greek Social Animal , Greece , Politics, Greece in Europe

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