Novartis top lawyer exits over payment to Trump lawyer
Novartis top lawyer exits over payment to Trump lawyer
16 May, 2018, 21:49
Mr. Ehrat, who has been Group General Counsel and Member of the Executive Committee of Novartis since 2011, has made a decision to retire from his position in the context of discussions surrounding Novartis' former agreement with Essential Consultants, owned by Michael Cohen.
"Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error", said the departing executive, echoing CEO Vas Narasimhan's comments about the deal in last week's email to employees. "As a co-signatory with our former CEO, I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end".
That's the same firm Cohen used to pay adult film star Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about her alleged affair with Trump. He will retire at the start of June, to be replaced by current Novartis ethics chief Shannon Thyme Klinger.
Shannon Thyme Klinger, now chief ethics, risk and compliance officer, will replace Ehart as group general counsel, effective 1 June 2018. It was part of efforts to learn more about how the Trump administration might approach US healthcare, Novartis said.
Last week, a top Senate Democrat opened an inquiry into the agreement between Novartis and Cohen, sending letters to Narasimhan and Cohen seeking financial information and a further accounting of the company's rationale for engaging the Trump insider.
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Novartis said its representatives met with Cohen in March 2017. 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". Ethics experts say that Cohen may have run afoul of foreign lobbying laws if it was the Swiss parent corporation - Novartis AG - and not the US subsidiary that held the contract or paid him.
Jimenez said he wanted to terminate the deal but decided that doing so would have been costlier than letting the agreement expire because of "almost certain litigation".
A US probe into whistleblower allegations that the company offered kickbacks to doctors via fancy dinners shamming as educational events.
Novartis shareholders have urged Narasimhan to exert more "moral influence" over perceived ethical shortcomings that Jimenez in 2016 blamed on a "results-oriented" sales culture and some bad actors.
Novartis asserts it received nothing from Cohen in exchange for the payments, yet the company's timeline leaves questions for skeptics.
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