Novartis dumps general counsel over payments to Trump lawyer

Novartis general counsel steps down over drugmaker's $1.2 million contract with 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".

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.

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 cosignatory with our former C.E.O., I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end".

Jimenez said Cohen told his team he had left Trump's organisation and had stopped working for the president before pitching for business with Novartis.

Novartis said its representatives met with Cohen in March 2017. It was recently revealed that Novartis made monthly payments, totalling $1.2m, seeking guidance on how the Trump administration might approach United States healthcare policies.

"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", Jimenez said.

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Novartis' new CEO Vas Narasimhan has since admitted that the payments were a serious error, but has been careful to distance himself from the decision.

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 United States healthcare policy matters and the decision was taken not to engage further".

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

After the election, drug companies proactively sought to develop policy proposals amid a commitment to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Jimenez said.

"Let me be absolutely clear: I never want Novartis to achieve our financial performance or objectives because we compromised on our ethical standards or our values-we must always choose our values", the CEO told investors, and promised to roll out a new guidance on how best to organize on integrity and compliance in the coming months.

Novartis has faced public outrage in recent weeks over its payment to Essential Consultants, a company founded by Mr. Cohen in 2016. Narasimhan, who's meeting with investors Wednesday in Basel, conducted a conference call Monday for 5,000 managers in which he said the company needs to rebuild trust and rethink its approach to the use of consultants and lobbying firms, according to a person familiar with the situation.

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