Novartis AG Athens Offices Raided in Bribery Probe, Exec Threatens With Suicide at Nearby Hotel

Published: Jan 06, 2017

Novartis AG Athens Offices Raided in Bribery Probe, Exec Threatens With Suicide at Nearby Hotel January 4, 2017
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

ATHENS – Another Novartis office has been raided by authorities in connection to bribery allegations.

This time authorities in Greece searched electronic data and files following the submission of media reports to that nation’s justice department. The reports allege that Novartis employees bribed physicians and other public officials to boost prescriptions and company sales, Tornos news reported. Greek authorities are seeking assistance from the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in the investigation.

Torno news reported that two Novartis executives based in Greece provided U.S. authorities with hundreds of documents showing kickback payments to more than 4,000 public and private physicians. The investigation of the Swiss pharma giant began in the middle of December, with the offices raided on Jan. 3.

According to reports by the Swiss news agency ATS, Greek authorities have interviewed about 178 Novartis employees.

While the investigation appears to be in its early stages, on New Year’s Day an unnamed 44-year-old Novartis executive threatened to kill himself by leaping off a downtown Athens hotel. After he was rescued by Athenian police officers, that “they will not put onto me all the ‘sins’ of the company,” apparently referring to the Novartis case, Tornos reported. Although little more was reported, the paper infers that the executive believed he was being made a scapegoat by Novartis.

Novartis pledged its cooperation with Greek authorities.

“Novartis is committed to the highest standards in matters of ethical business conduct and regulatory compliance in all aspects of its business, and takes very seriously all allegations of misconduct,” the company said in a statement to the French news agency AFP, according to a report in Swissinfo.

Novartis has been involved in a number of kickback scandals. In November 2015, Novartis agreed to pay $390 million to settle a civil lawsuit related to the kickback payments to specialty pharmacy companies that distributed the drugs Exjade and Myfortic. Although Novartis paid the amount, they neither admitted nor denied liability. The settlement, which is between Novartis Pharmaceutical Corporation , a U.S. subsidiary of Novartis AG, will be paid to both the U.S. government and to state Medicaid programs. The governments of more than 40 U.S. states raised concerns over payments Novartis made to the specialty pharmacy companies it contracts with to entice them to recommend prescriptions to Medicaid and Medicare patients.

In August, Novartis executives in South Korea, including the former chief executive of the Korea division, Haksun Moon, were indicted for allegedly making $2 million in payments to physicians in exchange for them prescribing Novartis medications. According to reports the monies were paid out to physicians over a five-year period, from 2011 to 2016.

In March, an anonymous whistleblower in Turkey accused the company of paying bribes to secure $85 million in business advantages in that country. Also in March, Novartis agreed to pay $25 million to settle charges it violated China’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The company was fined for allegedly bribing health care providers in that country to distribute its drugs. Novartis is also facing allegations in the United States that the company hosted about 80,000 “sham” events in which the government maintains the drug company “wined and dined” doctors to prescribe the company’s cardiovascular drugs.

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