Novartis top lawyer exits over payment to Trump lawyer

Novartis top lawyer exits over payment to Trump lawyer

President Donald Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen offered to help Novartis AG get a grip on the USA administration's position on key health-care issues before an agreement with the Swiss drugmaker quickly turned sour, former Chief Executive Officer Joe Jimenez said.

Veteran group general counsel of Swiss healthcare giant Novartis, Felix Ehrat, is standing down after admitting "an error" relating to the company's former agreement with US President Donald Trump's personal lawyer.

"Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error", Mr. Ehrat said.

"With the recent change in administration, Novartis believed that Michael Cohen could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain United States healthcare policy matters, including the Affordable Care Act", Novartis stated.

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 United States president.

In a statement Novartis added that the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee have "the greatest respect" for Ehrat's decision to step down.

Ehrat's statement on Wednesday says he was a co-signatory on the contract with Cohen, along with the then-CEO of Novartis AG, who retired at the beginning of this year. But it said it learned the contract could only be canceled for cause and allowed it to expire in February. It was part of efforts to learn more about how the Trump administration might approach USA healthcare, Novartis said.

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Novartis said its representatives met with Cohen in March 2017. 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. It said the payments continued because the contract could not have been terminated.

"That was a mistake", said Jimenez who admitted the firm should have "parted ways" with Cohen as soon as it became apparent he could not help.

Novartis had not acted on the advice and Cohen had never provided any access to anyone in the administration, said Jimenez.

"Shannon has a proven track record as a strong thought leader with a commitment to ethics and integrity", said Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan.

The case is under examination by the Greek and USA authorities.

Novartis has said that Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, contacted them last November to inquire about the connection to Mr. Cohen, and that the company cooperated with the investigation and considers its role closed.