Top lawyer at Novartis to step down amid Michael Cohen scandal


Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis on Wednesday announced the retirement of its top legal expert, as he apologised for payments made by the firm to Donald Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

"Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error", Ehrat said in a statement. "As a co-signatory with our former CEO, I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end", Ehrat, 60, said in a statement released Wednesday. Writing to Narasimhan on Friday, Wyden demanded detailed answers about the Cohen agreement, including who at Novartis had approved it and what the company had expected in return for its $1.2m payment.

A news story from Bloomberg reports that Narasimhan has responded to the scandal by inviting 5,000 senior Novartis managers to a conference call, in which he stressed the need for the company to regain public trust and change how it works with consultants and lobbyists.

Novartis said in a statement at the time that the company concluded after a meeting with Cohen that he was "unable to provide the services that Novartis had anticipated related to U.S. healthcare policy matters and the decision was taken not to engage further".

Daniels' attorney, Michael Avenatti, told NBC last week that Novartis was among several firms that paid large sums of money to a company controlled by Cohen. Jimenez said he never met Cohen in person.

"If the contract was held by the foreign parent, or paid from the the parent, then Michael Cohen would have been subject to FARA".

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Cohen said he wouldn't be providing any lobbying services, Jimenez said.

Shannon Thyme Klinger, now Novartis' Chief Ethics, Risk and Compliance Officer, will take over the Group General Counsel role from 1 June, and the company has signalled that its compliance and ethics measures will be tightened in response to the affair.

The burden would be on Cohen, not Novartis, to register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent under FARA.

Ehrat's departure comes just days after a top AT&T executive also stepped down.

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 USA president. Daniels is suing Cohen and Trump for defamation, as well as to void a nondisclosure agreement about the alleged affair. 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".