Greece’s former Alternate Justice Minister Dimitris Papangelopoulos has been referred to the Parliament’s Pre-Trial Committee following a decision on 8 October in the Greek parliament plenary.

Papangelopoulos may not be well known outside Greece’s borders, but he has been accused by leading Greek politicians of being the brains behind the so-called ‘Novartis case’, which shook the Greek political system 18 months ago.

The then-Greek government of leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras claimed to have evidence that politicians under previous New Democracy governments had been bribed by the Swiss pharmaceutical firm Novartis. With media and public opinion shocked by the matter, the manoeuvre eventually began to be a ploy by Tsipras’ SYRIZA party to influence public opinion as the case fell apart in a spectacular fashion.

Papangelopoulos injected himself into the matter in February 2018, before the disputed case went public and was sent to the Parliament, made a statement outside the seat of the Greek government in Athens saying that the Novartis case was “the biggest scandal since the foundation of the Greek state”. B

Based on the lawsuits of those involved in the case against Papangelopoulos, including former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras and former Deputy Prime Minister Evangelos Venizelos, it appears that Papangelopoulos should not have been aware of the contents of the case file. He is, however, accused of being the orchestrator of a “judicial circuit” whose existence was known to Tsipras as well as other people in the government at the time.

Papangelopoulos was referred to the Pre-Trial committee on the basis of a proposal by the governing New Democracy party of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. The proposal contained four possible charges against Papangelopoulos including a moral indictment for the abuse of power by physical assault and direct complicity in law enforcement; provocation and offering to commit a crime, breach of duty and incitement to falsehood.

The Pre-Trial Committee has full judicial authority to rule on the basis of these charges. Papangelopoulos faces the possibility of being referred to a Special Court, the highest level of judicial examination for the actions of MPs’ and Ministers in Greece. 

An open discussion about the proposal by New Democracy was held on 7 October in the Plenary of the Greek Parliament, which saw Papangelopoulos intervene in the debate. Former Prime Minister Tsipras, now the leader of the opposition, also took the floor to back Papangelopoulos.

Mitsotakis was absent from the process as he was in Egypt to participate in a trilateral meeting between Egypt and Turkey which touched on the recent developments on the Turkish-Syrian border as well as the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone.

During the parliamentary debate, the government’s current ministers, who are also members of parliament, opted to sit in their parliamentary seats during the discussions following instructions by the prime minister’s office. Mitsotakis’ stated intention was to highlight the clear separation of powers between the executive and the legislative by this symbolic gesture.

Interestingly, New Democracy chose not to include Tsipras in its proposal for reference to the Pre-Trial Committee. According to government sources and MPs tasked with handling the case, the decision was based on the absence of hard facts about Tsipras’ direct or indirect involvement in the case and in the handling of Papangelopoulos.

Several ministers have, however, indicated that the work of the Pre-Trial Committee is not pre-determined since an expansion of the scope of charges – but also of the those accused – is possible if new evidence comes to the surface.