Monday

27th May 2019

Greek EU commissioner challenges bribery allegations

Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, will mount a legal challenge over allegations he took bribes to help secure a lucrative contract for pharmaceutical company Novartis whilst a Greek minister.

The allegations, announced earlier this week by Greek prosecutors, stem from his time as minister of health in Athens between 2006 and 2009.

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Avramopoulos was named along with a handful of former ministers, including two past prime ministers, for having taken a reported €50m in bribes from the Swiss drug giant.

On Friday (9 February), Avramopoulos announced he would take legal recourse to lift the anonymity of people behind the allegations, describing them as slanderous and without basis.

"This case does not touch me, does not relate to me," he was cited as saying in Greek media outlet Ekathimerini.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras appears to have also stepped into the foray.

His spokesperson Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said Tsipras would be recommending that a parliament committee probe the claims.

The European Commission has declined to discuss the case openly, noting instead earlier this week that it had "nothing more to add" than what Avramopoulos had already said.

Trials and tribulations

But the potential fallout will likely have commission president Jean-Claude Juncker paying close attention.

The commission had barely managed to contain a scandal after German EU commissioner Guenther Oettinger had made racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks only to later fly on a German pro-Russia lobbyist's private jet to Hungary.

Those embarrassments were more or less swept away given that Oettinger was then handed the powerful budget commissioner portfolio, a step up from his previous post under Juncker as digital economy chief.

The scope of the budget commission tasks includes making sure EU officials behave well.

Juncker's predecessor as president Jose Manuel Barroso also had his own scandal.

In October 2012, he fired the Maltese commissioner for health John Dalli following "unambiguous and converging circumstantial evidence" of an attempted bribe.

The Dalli case stemmed from a five-month investigation by the EU's anti-fraud office Olaf, which had later come under fire given charges of illegal wire-tapping.

Barroso at the time said he had to relieve Dalli because he had become politically untenable.

Investigation

Part I: From Peppi’s to Barroso’s

Part I of VIII: EUobserver takes a closer look at the Barroso commission's biggest scandal - tobacco lobbying and John Dalli - in events some say will haunt the EU "for the next 10 years".

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