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.
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.”
Overall, Novartis paid Cohen $1.2 million, ostensibly to learn more about the Trump administration’s policy-making. It said last week that, although it quickly realized Cohen was “unable to provide the service that Novartis had anticipated,” it continued to pay him until the contract—signed by Ehrat and former Novartis chief Joe Jimenez—expired in February this year.
“As a co-signatory with our former CEO, I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end,” Ehrat said Wednesday. He will retire at the start of June, to be replaced by current Novartis ethics chief Shannon Thyme Klinger.
Ehrat’s retirement echoes that last week of of AT&T’s top lobbyist, Bob Quinn, who had responsibility for that company’s hiring of Cohen and his Essential Consultants vehicle.
Apart from AT&T and Novartis, Cohen was also paid by Korea Aerospace Industries and Columbus Nova, a New York investment firm whose biggest client is Renova Group, a conglomerate owned by U.S.-sanctioned, Kremlin-backed Russian oligarch Victor Vekselberg.
Novartis’s payments to Cohen have reportedly aroused the interest of Swiss public prosecutors, although there are currently no criminal proceedings underway.
Jimenez told Bloomberg that Cohen had “oversold his abilities” in being able to explain the then-new Trump administration’s position on healthcare issues. He said the company continued to pay him because it feared litigation over a premature termination of the agreement.
“We should have just definitively parted ways with this guy as soon as we knew he was not going to be a help,” said Jimenez, who claimed Cohen told him he no longer worked for Trump at the time of the contract’s signing.
Earlier this week, Democratic Senators Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal and Ron Wyden wrote to the CEOs of AT&T and Novartis suggesting that their companies’ payments to Cohen “raise obvious questions about corruption.”
According to Bloomberg, Jimenez’s successor, Vas Narasimhan, has told Novartis’s managers that the company needs to “rethink its approach to the use of consultants and lobbying firms.”