Greek Prosecutor Summoned for Questioning Over Her Novartis Probe
Eleni Touloupaki, the Greek prosecutor who investigated bribes paid by Swiss pharmaceutical producer Novartis to Greek politicians and healthcare providers, said she has been summoned to appear for questioning at the Greek Supreme Court on Friday as part of a separate criminal investigation launched against her after she was removed from the Novartis case.
In addition to bribing politicians to raise drug prices in Greece and therefore elsewhere in the EU, Novartis also bribed more than 5,000 Greek doctors to encourage them to prescribe their products to patients.
Touloupaki was removed from the case after the 2019 elections brought Prime Minister Kyriacos Mitsotakis to power and the case turned cold in Greece.
But not in the United States. Novartis agreed in 2020 to pay US$347 million as part of a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commision over violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, in which it acknowledged making illegal payments to Greek healthcare providers and officials.
Nevertheless, Greece did little to hold the Swiss pharmaceutical company and the recipients of the bribes to account. Instead, Touloupaki was along with several other people accused of abuse of power, dereliction of duty and participation in a criminal organization which sought to implicate politicians in the Novartis bribe case.
Touloupaki told OCCRP at the time that ever since she started probing the Novartis bribery case, she has been politically persecuted as a result. “They managed to turn the auditors into defendants in order to stop any judicial investigation,” she told OCCRP in 2020.
“Now, I am summoned by Greek justice to answer as a defendant,” Touloupaki said in a public statement on Tuesday.
She called the summons a badge of honor and recognition “for acting guided by public interest and not giving in to pressure, for highlighting the scandal which cost a lot our country, Europe and thousands of people deprived of the right to healthcare.”
In January, prominent journalists Ioanna Papadakou and Kostas Vaxevanis, both accused of being together with a former deputy justice minister under the previous SYRIZA government members in the same criminal organization as Touloupaki, had to appear at the Supreme Court for questioning, which sparked a strong reaction from organizations defending journalists.
Meanwhile, one by one, people Touloupaki investigated in connection with the Novartis bribery were let off the hook. Two weeks ago, Minister of Economy Adonis Georgiades, announced that the case against him was dropped.
Georgiades accused media of fabricating articles to mislead the public and his colleagues about his role in the Novartis case and said that those outlets are being now investigated by the country’s justice system.
“I want to thank Prime Minister and chairman of Nea Demokratia Kyriacos Mitsotakis who never disputed my character’s integrity and always stood by my side,” he said.
Days later, Greek newspaper Avgi reported that prosecutors deemed a whistleblower’s testimony not credible enough for Georgiades to be prosecuted. The witness, whose true identity is protected and is known only by the alias “Aikaterine Kelesi,” claimed that on three occasions she witnessed how Georgiades had been given envelopes which contained a total of 140,000 euros ($160,000) in cash.
Justifying their decision to drop the case, prosecutors said that various sums totalling 365,000 euros ($419,160) had been deposited on the minister’s account by associates and relatives in the years 2013 to 2016.
On Wednesday, it emerged that former minister and EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos, who had also been probed in relation to the Novartis illegal payments, had also his case dropped and that he, just like Georgiades, had funds deposited on his account. Once his mother-in-law deposited 100,000 euros ($114,850) in cash in 2007, Documentonews,gr reported.
Back to Touloupaki and accusations against her - not everyone is enthusiastic about targeting her.
Greek European Parliament member Giorgos Kyrtsos, another member of Mitsotakis’s Nea Demokratia party, warned in a series of tweets that the decision to drag Touloupaki to the courts may backfire.
“The government is getting into an adventure,” Kyrtsos said on Wednesday. “The combination of prosecuting journalists (and) a judicial officer on the grounds that they participated in the ‘Novarrtis conspiracy’ and the immunity (granted to) the multinational (company), exposes Mitsotakis (and) the government to EU” criticism.
As long as the government continues to ignore the Novartis case, Touloupaki will find sympathizers in the EU, he said.
On Tuesday, health minister Thanos Plevris announced the government’s intention to seek compensation from Novartis.
The news left Touloupaki perplexed.
“How can they support a lawsuit based on the findings that they accuse me of fabricating?” she told OCCRP. “In any case, the prosecution of Novartis over encouraging prescriptions was my work.”