March 5, 2018 / 4:41 PM / 9 months ago

Greek parliament set to probe politicians in alleged Novartis bribery case

FILE PHOTO - Workers clean the entrance of the Swiss drugmaker Novartis offices after protesters threw paint and smashed windows, in Athens, Greece, February 25, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s parliament set up a committee on Monday to investigate the role of 10 politicians in alleged bribes by Swiss drugmaker Novartis (NOVN.S) in a case that has struck a nerve in a country recovering from a debt crisis many blame on a corrupt elite.

The socialist and conservative politicians who served between 2006 and 2015 say the allegations are a fabrication and witch-hunt by the leftist-led government to discredit them head of elections in 2019.

The government of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras denies.

Lawmakers last month voted in favour of the investigation, 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 has said that, if an investigation finds its managers acted unethically, it would take “fast and decisive action”.

Under Greek law, parliament is the only institution that can investigate ministers and lawmakers and lift their immunity.

The committee made up of 21 lawmakers - a majority of them from Tsipras’ Syriza party - has been given one month to look into the case and draw its conclusions. It was expected to elect a chairman on Monday and discuss procedural issues.

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 Matthew Mpoke Bigg

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