Tuesday, 22 May, 2018

Novartis's top lawyer is out after Michael Cohen payments

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Terence Owen | 16 May, 2018, 21:50

Felix Ehrat, general counsel for the Swiss drugmaker, noted in a statement Wednesday that the company's $1.2 million agreement was "legally in order", but added "it was an error".

Novartis' top lawyer, Felix Ehrat, will retire at the beginning of next month, stepping down from his post on the pharma's executive committee over the controversial payment by Novartis of $1.2 million to a company controlled by President Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen. "As a co-signatory with our former CEO, I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end".

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 previous year in a doctor kickbacks case and $25 million to the USA government to settle charges of illegal doctor payments in China. The company has said it quickly determined that Cohen's business would be unable to provide the services it anticipated and decided not to engage further, but was contractually bound to keep making monthly payments of $100,000.

Jimenez said the contract with Cohen was negotiated with Novartis' legal team after an introduction from an unidentified "third party", and that he had not met the lawyer in person. Novartis has said that Narasimhan had no involvement. It was recently revealed that Novartis made monthly payments, totalling $1.2m, seeking guidance on how the Trump administration might approach United States healthcare policies. Those include putting in place an independent ethics board that looks at access and patient issues, tightening controls and plans to deploy a big data analytics system to monitor email traffic, he said.

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"Let me be absolutely clear: I never want Novartis to achieve our financial performance or objectives because we compromised on our ethical standards or our values-we must always choose our values", the CEO told investors, and promised to roll out a new guidance on how best to organize on integrity and compliance in the coming months. At one point he recommended that the company should build a manufacturing site in the USA but Novartis never acted on any of his advice, the ex-CEO added.

Novartis asserts it received nothing from Cohen in exchange for the payments, yet the company's timeline leaves questions for skeptics. Jimenez left the company in September.

After the election, drug companies proactively sought to develop policy proposals amid a commitment to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Jimenez said. It said the payments continued because the contract could not have been terminated.

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