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Novartis work with Trump aide Cohen closer than admitted

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Novartis work with Trump aide Cohen closer than admitted
Cohen is under investigation in New York in relation to his work for Trump. Photos: AFP
17:25 CEST+02:00
Swiss drugmaker Novartis worked much more closely with Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former fixer, than the Swiss firm previously admitted, according to a report by four top US senators Friday.

The report says that over their one-year consulting deal, Novartis discussed drug pricing proposals with Cohen and also a Cohen-pushed deal to invest in a company linked to a sanctioned Russian tycoon.

Far from having met with Cohen just once and then deciding not to engage with him further -- as Novartis claimed on May 11 -- the Swiss company had a number of communications with him over the year of their $100,000 per month consulting deal, according to the report.

Cohen and then-Novartis chief executive Joe Jimenez "had at least four phone calls, and, between April and September 2017, exchanged multiple emails on substantive issues, including the Trump administration's drug pricing proposals, Novartis's potential investment in a small drug company backed by Columbus Nova, and with regard to opioid lawsuits," the report said.

The report also took issue with Novartis' claim that it could not terminate the consulting contract it signed with Cohen on March 7, 2017 -- six weeks after Trump became president -- until the end of the first year.

Novartis could have invoked a "satisfactory performance" clause in the deal to terminate it, the report said.

"But Novartis did not choose to invoke these provisions to terminate the agreement," said the report.

The report was issued by Democratic Senators Ron Wyden, Patty Murray, Richard Blumenthal, and Elizabeth Warren, who have sought to examine how Cohen, a longtime personal lawyer and aide for Trump, used his position close to the president to gain lucrative consulting contracts with a diverse group of companies.

'Mistake' 

Pitching himself variably as "Executive Vice President and Special Counsel to Donald J. Trump," "Personal Counsel to President Donald J. Trump," or "Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump," Cohen set deals in early 2017 with Novartis, telecommunications company AT&T, Korea Aerospace Industries, and private equity firm Columbus Nova -- linked to sanctioned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

Cohen is under investigation in New York in relation to his work for Trump.

On May 11 Novartis said it had retained Cohen believing that "he could advise the company as to how the Trump administration might approach certain US healthcare policy matters."

After one meeting, it said, company officials "decided not to engage with him further."

But Novartis continued paying Cohen over 12 months, saying it could not pull out of the contract.

On May 16 Novartis announced that its top legal expert was retiring, after he took personal responsibility for the deal with Cohen.

On Friday Novartis said it "disagreed with" the conclusion of the senators' report.

It reiterated its assertion that Cohen was not asked for any services after the first meeting, adding that the communications with Jimenez were initiated by Cohen and Jimenez engaged at a minimal level.

"As we have already acknowledged, Novartis made a mistake in entering into the contract with Michael Cohen," the company said.

"And in hindsight -- and certainly knowing everything we know now -- we should have tried to terminate the contract with Mr. Cohen regardless of our views at the time of its legal enforceability."

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