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Novartis rejects claims it misled Senate over Cohen links

Report says Novartis discussed drug-pricing with the President’s former ‘fixer’

A US Senate report has concluded that Novartis had a deeper relationship than it previously claimed with Donald Trump’s former lawyer and ‘fixer’ Michael Cohen, who is currently under federal investigation.

Joe Jimenez

The Swiss pharma group disputes the findings of the ‘White House access for sale’ report which suggests that – contrary to public statements that it had a short-lived exchange with Cohen in early 2017 – the company’s former CEO Joe Jimenez (pictured above) had multiple discussions in the following months. It also takes issue with claims that it made payments to Cohen try to influence US medicine pricing policy.

Cohen has not been charged with a crime but is reportedly at the centre of a criminal probe into possible bank fraud and violation of campaign finance rules, according to multiple news reports, and has also become embroiled in allegations that Russia influenced the 2016 US election result.

Novartis links to Cohen have already resulted in the resignation of legal head Felix Ehrat (pictured below). In May, he accepted responsibility for the embarrassment surrounding $1.2m in payments made by Novartis to the lawyer, exposed amid the journalist digging and legal wrangling that followed porn star Stormy Daniels’ claim that she had an affair with the President and was paid $130,000 for her silence.

Felix Ehrat

Novartis paid Cohen $100,000 a month for one year for Cohen’s expertise on the Trump administration, but said previously it broke off contact quickly after it became apparent Cohen wasn’t well informed on health policy. The continued payments were a contractual matter, it asserted, although the Senate report’s claim that Jimenez maintained contact with Cohen runs counter to its earlier version of events.

Novartis has no truck with the Senate’s version of events, saying in a statement that “as the documents we produced show, Novartis had one and only meeting with Mr. Cohen on March 1, 2017 and then concluded he was not able to provide the substantive consulting advice and insight for which he was hired”.

Novartis

It continues: “We never asked Mr. Cohen to perform any services on our behalf after March 1, nor did he perform any.” Any contact thereafter was initiated by Cohen and occurred on “a handful of occasions”, and included a request for ideas on how to lower drug prices.

In response, Jimenez provided Cohen with “a list of well-known ideas for lowering the cost of pharmaceuticals that had been discussed publicly in the industry”, says Novartis.

According to the US Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, which complied the report, several of those proposals would later appear in Trump’s drug pricing proposal released in May. It also alleges that Novartis could have terminated the contract with Cohen but chose not to.

“The more we learn about the arrangement between Michael Cohen and Novartis, the more alarming it appears,” according to HELP ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash).

“The public was rightly concerned to learn President Trump’s close associates are selling access to the Administration and getting million dollar contracts from drug companies,” she continues.

“I am going to continue to demand transparency from the Trump Administration and the companies that are trying to influence it and shine a spotlight on deals like this that raise so many alarming ethical questions, because people across the country want to know that their public officials are working for them, not for big business, wealthy donors, or special interests.”

The report suggests Cohen tried to persuade Novartis to invest in a healthcare company – Yamo Pharmaceuticals – connected to “sanctioned Russian oligarch” Viktor Vekselberg , who has also been questioned by investigators working on the Russian interference probe.

Article by
Phil Taylor

16th July 2018

From: Regulatory

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