Syriza strikes back with drugs scandal

Syriza strikes back with drugs scandal

Just a week ago hundreds of thousands of Greeks, mainly opponents of the government, gathered in front of the Greek Parliament in Athens, waved their national flags and listened to the leftist composer Mikis Theodorakis admonish them that they should stand firm against anybody challenging the Greekness of their “Macedonia.” He also told them that one - like him - can be “an internationalist and a patriot” at the same time. Although the organizers of the “Macedonia rally” invested a lot on the concept of “national unity,” this nearly a-century-old musical legend received a fair amount of criticism for blurring the ideological borders between right and left.

In the meantime, the secret diplomacy between Greece and its northern neighbor FYROM continues, aiming at settling a decades-old dispute over the use of a mutually accepted name for a nation who also like to call themselves Macedonians but who are one step away from becoming members of NATO and then of the EU.

The “Macedonia” issue showed that one year before general elections are due in Greece polarization between the leftist government and the conservative official opposition is already high. But the “Novartis scandal” that broke out only two days after the “Macedonia rally indicated that an even more exciting political spectacle is about to begin.”

It involves “10 politicians, of whom two are former prime ministers, as well as state officials, bankers, doctors, lawyers and journalists” and it touches upon the sensitive subject of public health. According to the Tsipras government, an ongoing investigation in collaboration with U.S. authorities has revealed that the Swiss-based pharmaceutical giant has allegedly bribed virtually everybody, between 2006 and 2015, and has supplied its products to the Greek market at exorbitantly increased prices.

The case file with the results of the investigation, during which the allegations by protected witnesses were used both in Greece and the U.S., is now in the hands of the parliament speaker. The procedure by which the accused politicians will have to be investigated by the parliament will be decided this week. Antonis Samaras, the former prime minister, is among them accused of being bribed in cash by Novartis. Samaras, whose political career was intricately linked with the “Macedonia” issue, was among the key politicians of last week’s rally in Athens. Most of the other politicians accused had served in health-related ministries and social services. The alleged period coincides with the most brutal implementation of austerity imposed on Greece which resulted in the dramatic drop of most people’s income.

A major corruption scandal involving politicians of the “pre-Syriza” era, linked with the sensitive sector of health world is an insult for the society. “The moral implications are enormous. At a time of recession, when it’s difficult for our poorer fellow citizens to find the drugs they need, there were certain pharmaceuticals who, in an illegal and provocative way, worked to provide drugs at inflated prices,” said the Greek justice minister.

The “Novartis bomb” took off the steam of the “Macedonia rally” in just a few days. The opposition, in particular the official opposition, is up in arms; they accuse the government of a major set-up job, although they accept that there has been corruption in the health sector during the period of their government. They claim that the government “added” the politicians in cooperation with its favorite judiciary. They also claim that in the meantime, the government is about “sell off” the issue of Macedonia.

These are early days yet. There is still more to come from the parallel U.S. investigation; rumors have it that more hard evidence involves politicians.

So, the show started. Will it last long, will it fold quickly? Will anybody from the “old corrupted political establishment” against which Syriza fought and was voted to power by a disgruntled society be punished? If the whole thing proves to be an “agenda setting” case, then it will not be a big surprise for many Greeks. On the other hand, though, if the allegations are proven to be true, then Syriza may have won back much of its political credibility.

Ariana Ferentinou, hdn, Opinion