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Top Novartis Executive Retires Over $1.2 Million Payment To Michael Cohen

16 May 2018

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.

In a company statement ahead of an investor day on Wednesday, Ehrat acknowledged he signed the contract along with former Novartis Chief Executive Joe Jimenez, who stepped down on February 1 and was replaced by Vas Narasimhan.

The $100,000-per-month contract with Trump attorney Michael Cohen's Essential Consultants, the same firm used to pay porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to hush up an alleged affair with Trump, has distracted Novartis's efforts to improve its image after a series of bribery scandals.

The company has said that it realized after its first meeting with Cohen that the Trump's personal lawyer would not be helpful in garnering influence and stopped working with him, but continued to pay out the remainder of the contract.

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.

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.

Novartis previously admitted to hiring Essential in February 2017 for advice "as to how the Trump administration might approach certain USA healthcare policy matters".

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". The new Novartis chief executive, Vasant Narasimhan, a former R&D chief who succeeded Jimenez this past February, called the contract a "mistake", and quickly distanced himself by insisting he was not involved in retaining Cohen.

"After my team met with him individually, it was clear that he oversold his abilities". It said the payments continued because the contract could not have been terminated.

Top Novartis Executive Retires Over $1.2 Million Payment To Michael Cohen