Top lawyer at Novartis to step down amid Michael Cohen scandal


The $100,000-per-month contract between Novartis and Cohen's Essential Consultants was approved under former chief executive Joe Jimenez in 2017 as a bid to gain insight into USA healthcare policy under the new administration.

In a statement he said: "Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error".

Novartis had also paid Cohen into the account, which is the same LLC that Cohen used to pay $130,000 to adult-film star Stormy Daniels, allegedly for her silence about an affair she claims she had with Trump. It was recently revealed that Novartis made monthly payments, totalling $1.2m, seeking guidance on how the Trump administration might approach U.S. healthcare policies.

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Ehrat's statement on Wednesday says he was a co-signatory on the contract with Cohen, along with the then-CEO of Novartis AG, who retired at the beginning of this year.

Narasimhan called the contract a major mistake at a meeting with investors in Basel and said Novartis is developing a principles-, not rules-based system to avert corruption.

But after Jimenez's people sat down with Cohen individually for the first time, "it was clear that he oversold his abilities", the former CEO said.

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Since revelations about the relationship last Tuesday, Novartis has sought to distance its new chief executive, Vas Narasimhan, from the controversy, saying that the decision to hire Mr. Cohen had been made by Mr. Jimenez and that Mr. Narasimhan had played no role.

A "third party" recommended Cohen to Novartis, Jimenez said, declining to identify that person.

On May 9, Novartis said it signed a one-year contract for $100,000 a month with the firm in February 2017, seeking advice on the new administration's public health policy. Rather than terminating the contract, Jimenez elected not to, because he anxious that ensuing litigation would cost more than paying out the contract would. 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". "We should have just definitively parted ways with this guy as soon as we knew he was not going to be a help". The president has denied the allegations. At one point he recommended that the company should build a manufacturing site in the US but Novartis never acted on any of his advice, the ex-CEO added.

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Michael Avenatti, Daniels' lawyer, also revealed that Cohen received $500,000 through Essential Consultants from Columbus Nova, a company with connections to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, who has ties to President Vladimir Putin.