Top pharma lawyer resigns over payments to Cohen

17 May, 2018, 09:13 | Author: Shawn Conner
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The top lawyer for drugmaker Novartis said he'll step down after hiring Trump fixer Michael Cohen's Essential Consultants as an adviser past year.

As the Swiss pharma company's group general counsel, Ehrat was the co-signatory, along with then-CEO Joe Jimenez, on the contract to hire Cohen's firm to provide consultancy services - a decision which has blown up in Novartis' face since it came to light last week.

"Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error", Ehrat, 60, said on Wednesday.

The payments became public knowledge after Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for porn actress Stephanie Clifford, who is better known as Stormy Daniels, published details of an account used by Cohen to pay Clifford $130,000 so that she would keep quiet about her affair with the U.S. president.

Novartis group general counsel Felix R. Ehrat said Wednesday that he would retire, because of the role he played in setting up the contract, saying that while the contract was legal, "it was an error".

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Narasimhan called the contract a major mistake at a meeting with investors in Basel and said Novartis is developing a principles-, not rules-based system to avert corruption. In an interview with Bloomberg, Jimenez said he hired Cohen thinking the lawyer had stopped working for Trump and turned to selling "his expertise in terms of knowing the personalities that were in the administration".

Novartis said its representatives met with Cohen in March 2017. The former CEO said he wanted to terminate the deal but ultimately decided that trying to end it would have been costlier than letting the agreement expire because of "almost certain litigation", he said. Novartis should have done more due diligence and "definitively parted ways" with Cohen as soon as it knew he wouldn't be able to help, the former CEO said. He maintained that Novartis never acted on any of Cohen's advice or tried to gain access to anyone in the administration. Narasimhan was among the European executives Trump had dinner with in January at Davos, though Novartis said the current CEO was "in no way involved with this agreement".

After a much-publicized series of scandals and legal actions in Japan, Novartis has fielded bribery and kickback allegations in multiple countries-twice, in China's case-and paid at least two related fines: A $50 million penatly to South Korean authorities past year in a doctor kickbacks case and $25 million to the US government to settle charges of illegal doctor payments in China. At one point he recommended that the company should build a manufacturing site in the US but Novartis never acted on any of his advice, the ex-CEO added.

Novartis has faced public outrage in recent weeks over its payment to Essential Consultants, a company founded by Mr. Cohen in 2016.

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