Novartis top lawyer quits over Cohen payments

Daniel Fowler
May 16, 2018

The top lawyer at Swiss pharmaceuticals giant Novartis has fallen on his sword over the company's payments to U.S. President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing the adult-film star Stormy Daniels, alleged in May that a Novartis unit had paid Essential Consulting, a firm linked to Cohen, almost $400,000 in late 2017 and early 2018. The company still paid out the $1.2 million contract. Novartis Chief Executive Vasant Narasimhan last week called.

Felix Ehrat, Novartis's group general counsel, said in a Wednesday statement that although the company's $100,000-per-month contract with Cohen was legal, "it was an error".

On May 16, Novartis's general counsel Feliz R. Ehrat apologised for making the deal.

"Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error", Ehrat said in a Novartis statement, adding that he took "personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end".

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Novartis' general counsel Felix Ehrat will be replaced on June 1 by Shannon Thyme Klinger, who now works as the company's chief ethics, risk and compliance officer, according to the WSJ. It said the payments continued because the contract could not have been terminated.

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

Apart from AT&T and Novartis, Cohen was also paid by Korea Aerospace Industries and Columbus Nova, a NY investment firm whose biggest client is Renova Group, a conglomerate owned by US -sanctioned, Kremlin-backed Russian oligarch Victor Vekselberg.

In an interview with business news outlet Bloomberg published on Wednesday, former Novartis CEO Joe Jimenez said: "Michael Cohen was somebody who was introduced to us, and he was unknown to us, but he was said to be somebody who could help".

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