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MarketScreener Homepage  >  Equities  >  Swiss Exchange  >  Novartis    NOVN   CH0012005267


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Novartis : Greek Parliament to Vote on Prosecutions in Novartis Bribery Case

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05/18/2018 | 08:17am EDT

By Nektaria Stamouli and Donato Paolo Mancini

ATHENS--Greece's Parliament is set to vote later on Friday on whether or not to request the prosecution of high-profile politicians allegedly involved in a bribery case with Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

Parliament is expected to conclude it cannot investigate the allegations and that the file should be returned to judicial authorities.

In Greece, Novartis is accused of bribing high-profile politicians, public officials and thousands of doctors to boost its sales in order to build a dominant position in the country's health-care market and secure artificially high prices for its products. The case is under examination by the Greek and U.S. authorities.

Greek anticorruption prosecutors alleged that 4,500 doctors and 10 high profile politicians, including two former prime ministers, a former head of the central bank and a European commissioner are involved in the Novartis price-fixing scandal.

The activity occurred between 2006 and 2015 and involved 4,500 doctors as well, covering the period during which Greece was bailed out and was living under tight scrutiny by its international creditors. The country has slashed health-care spending to fix its finances.

All politicians denied wrongdoing. Opposition parties accused the government of stoking the scandal for political gain. Novartis has said that it has been cooperating with Greek authorities and that it will take "decisive" action if any wrongdoing is found.

The case was referred to parliament by prosecutors in February because, under Greek law, this is the only institution that can investigate politicians and lift their immunity if it finds evidence of criminal activity. Prosecutors referred their investigation to parliament this month.

Novartis is under pressure after drawing the attention of Swiss prosecutors after disclosing last week that it had paid a total of $1.2 million to Essential Consultants LLC, a company owned by Michael Cohen. Mr. Cohen is U.S. President Donald Trump's personal attorney.

Novartis said the payments were for what it called advice on "health-care policy matters."

Novartis's chief executive Vasant Narasimhan called the move a mistake. The company said payments could only cease in February 2018 even if the company had been determined Mr. Cohen was unable to effectively offer advice on health-care policy, and that Mr. Narasimhan was not involved in the deal with Mr. Cohen. Mr. Cohen declined to comment.

In the wake of the disclosures, Novartis's top lawyer, Felix Ehrat, said he would leave the company. Mr. Narasimhan said Wednesday at an investor meeting in Basel that changes in top management would be made, and that a new professional-practices policy would be in place so employees could "ask themselves the key questions before making a decision."

Swiss prosecutors said earlier this week they were in contact with one another over the disclosures, but declined to say whether charges were being considered.

Read more about Novartis's connection to Michael Cohen at https://on.wsj.com/2k61xoQ (WSJ) or https://bit.ly/2IN3Bjl (NewsPlus).

Write to Nektaria Stamouli at nektaria.stamouli@wsj.com and to Donato Paolo Mancini at donatopaolo.mancini@dowjones.com

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