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Greece to probe corruption in health sector worth €85billion

Greece’s parliament on Wednesday voted to open an investigation into alleged health scandals and corruption going back two decades, involving bribes and inflated prices for medical equipment and medicine. A broad majority of 187 lawmakers in the 300-seat parliament approved a government proposal to look into suspected mismanagement between 1997 and 2014. The proposal was adopted with the votes of SYRIZA, Independent Greeks, KKE, Progressive Alliance (PASOK), Golden Dawn, Centrists’ Union and To Potami.

The proposal of main opposition conservative New Democracy to probe scandals in the health sector from 1996 until today received only 107 votes and was down-voted by the coalition government parties. The coalition government rejects any claims it would be involved in  corruption.

“Everything must be investigated… to clear up whether the public interest was upheld,” Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told the chamber.

The ruling left-wing government says that past socialist and conservative administrations for decades allowed health contractors to overcharge Greek hospitals for equipment, supplies and medicine in return for kickbacks.

“For years, public (funds) were pillaged, hurting social security funds and benefiting powerful interests,” the Prime Minister said.

Alternate health minister Pavlos Polakis said the committee will practically investigate a quarter of the country’s public debt. According to moderate calculations, “85 billion euro was the black money due to overpricing and corruption, the money that was spent beyond the real needs of the health sector in the previous years,” Polakis said.

He claimed that “85 billion euros were spent for overpricing in medicine, in diagnostic and microbiological tests, in screening and reagents, in material supplies and services. The pharmaceutical expenditure skyrocketed through over prescription and over consumption by a system that was not transparent until 2010.”

Health Minister Andreas Xanthos said “We investigate any criminal liability that may relate to officers of the public administration or political figures. Through this procedure we also want to identify the ‘holes’ within the system and the mechanisms that allowed such behaviors.”

It was “a party with many participants over a period of twenty years,” Polakis said pointing out at “political leaderships, public administrators, hospital administrators and a major part of the work force of the public sector that would take its share too.”

AFP notes that, Wednesday’s move came as Greek magistrates are stepping up an investigation into claims of widespread bribery by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis.

Greece’s justice minister last week said Novartis had likely bribed “thousands” of doctors and civil servants to promote its products.

“National health service doctors and state officials were bribed to promote drugs in an illegal and anti-scientific manner,” Mr Kontonis said.

The Swiss pharmaceutical giant has also been investigated by American and Chinese authorities, and forced to pay millions of dollars (euros) in fines.

Mr Tsipras said there are also questions over the 2014 takeover of one of Greece’s top hospitals, the Erikos Dinan, which had previously been managed by the Hellenic Red Cross.

The investigating committee of the Parliament will have to conclude its works within three months since its establishment. It will consist of 23 lawmakers from several parties.

SYRIZA-ANEL rejected the ND proposal to extend the probe also for the time they are in power, saying “we are not the same.”

PS  Inflated prices in the health sector was a common secret.

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