Project Description

$300 Million Foreign Bribery in Greece

Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto and Athens-based Greek law firm of Pavlos K. Sarakis & Associates jointly represented Greek whistleblowers who proved that the multinational Swiss-based pharmaceutical company Novartis paid millions in bribes to illegally market drugs in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Novartis was required to pay over $300 million in sanctions and fines to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).

Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto worked directly with attorneys and agents from the DOJ and SEC in this multi-year international bribery, unique because the bribes were paid to officials in a European Union country. The case included client interviews in Europe and a factual investigation in Athens, Greece. Attempts to “unmask” the identities of the whistleblowers, and retaliate against them, were intense. At one point a suspected whistleblower had a state-appointed body guards to protect his safety. The local lawyers in Greece were also assigned body guards by the Greek government to prevent retaliation.

The whistleblowers, whose identities remain strictly confidential, were fully vindicated. The whistleblowers information resulted in fines and sanctions against Novartis of over $300 million. Novartis also had to agree to extensive remedial programs to prevent bribery in the future.

This case demonstrates the broad reach of the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). The U.S. whistleblower laws, including the right to file cases anonymously, applied, even though the whistleblowers came from Greece, the drug company was headquartered in Switzerland, the bribes were paid in Greece, and the politicians and government employees taking the bribes were all in Greece.

The Department of Justice described the FCPA cases against Novartis as follows:

“Novartis Greece conspired with others to violate the FCPA by engaging in a scheme to bribe employees of state-owned and state-controlled hospitals and clinics in Greece in order to increase the sale of Novartis-branded pharmaceutical products. . . Novartis Greece, through its employees and agents, knowingly and willfully conspired with others to cause Novartis AG to mischaracterize and falsely record improper payments related to the international medical congresses and the epidemiological study in Novartis AG’s books, records, and accounts. . . As part of the agreement, Novartis Greece agreed to continue to cooperate with the government in any ongoing or future criminal investigations concerning Novartis Greece, its executives, employees, or agents. Novartis Greece and its parent company, Novartis AG, agreed to enhance their compliance programs and to report to the government on the implementation of their enhanced compliance programs.”

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