Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis on 16 May announced the retirement of its group general legal counsel, Mr Felix Ehrat, as he apologised for payments made by the company to United States President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Mr Michael Cohen.
The announcement came after Novartis was dragged into the scandal over Mr Cohen’s payment of $US130,000 to US adult film actor Ms ‘Stormy’ Daniels just days before the 2016 presidential election.
On 9 May, Novartis said it had signed a one-year contract for $US100,000 a month with Mr Cohen’s firm in February 2017, seeking advice on the new Trump administration’s public health policy.
Following a meeting with Mr Cohen, the company changed its mind, although Novartis was contractually obliged to pay him the full $1.2 million.
US special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the payments as a strand of his wider investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and allegations of collusion and obstruction of justice by the Trump campaign.
Mr Trump originally denied having an affair with Ms Daniels, who goes by her stage name rather than her real name of Stephanie Clifford, more than a decade ago. But one of the newest members of Mr Trump’s legal team, former federal prosecutor and New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, has acknowledged the US president reimbursed Cohen for the hush money.
Last week, Ms Daniels’ lawyer, Mr Michael Avenatti, wrote on Twitter that Novartis and US telecoms giant AT&T had used the services of Cohen’s firm Essential Consultants – the same company used to make the payment to Ms Daniels.
Then on 16 May, Mr Trump
Mr Cohen is currently under federal investigation in New York, separately from the Mueller investigation but triggered by advice from the special counsel.
Mr Ehrat apologised for making the deal in the first place.
“Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error. As a co-signatory with our former chief executive officer, I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end,” Mr Ehrat said in a statement issued by Novartis.
The current CEO of Novartis, Mr Vadant Narasimham, who was not involved in the contract, called it “a mistake”.
Novartis Australia’s subsidiaries include ophthalmology supplier Alcon.