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Novartis' top lawyer retires from role over botched Trump deal

Published on 16/05/18 at 11:48am

The saga of Novartis’ ill-advised $1.2 million deal with US President Donald Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen continues to unfold as it emerges that company’s top legal figure, General Counsel Felix Ehrat, has retired from his role in response to the scandal.

Ehrat was a co-signatory on the $100,000-a-month deal. “Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error,” he commented – a sentiment echoed by Chief Executive Vasant Narasimhan, who has also called the deal a mistake, though has denied any direct involvement himself.

“As a co-signatory with our former CEO, I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end,” Ehrat added.

Effective 1 June, he will be replaced in the role of General Counsel by Shannon Thyme Klinger, who currently holds the position of Chief Ethics, Risk and Compliance Officer.  Ehrat has acted as General Counsel and as a Member of the Executive Committee since 2011.

“During his term as Group General Counsel, Felix was instrumental in further developing the global Legal Department of Novartis, and he played a key role in the Executive Committee with his proven expertise,” commented Narasimhan.  “Furthermore, he was a dedicated representative of the company's interests in important national organisations such as economiesuisse, SwissHoldings and Avenir Suisse. The Novartis leadership owes him considerable thanks for his many contributions and wishes him all the best in his future endeavours.”

He added: “Shannon has a proven track record as a strong thought leader with a commitment to ethics and integrity. She is an experienced and gifted lawyer who's already made tremendous contributions to the company. She brings the combination of private practice and industry experience in Europe and the US that we need, and I have no doubt that the company will benefit from her judgment and expertise.”

News of the deal is a blow to the pharma giant, after it admitted that it had sought the deal on the promise that it would provide insight into the Trump administration, its operations and its goals, but it was proven to be a huge waste of stakeholder funds when, after the first meeting with Cohen, it became apparent he couldn’t deliver. The company was stuck, it says, paying monthly payments in a deal it couldn’t back out of.

On a wider level, the scandal has dragged them into the mire of ongoing controversy surrounding Cohen and Trump, after it was revealed that the lawyer had acted through his consultancy firm to pay $130,000 in hush money to Stormy Daniels to keep under wraps the details of an alleged affair between her and the President.

Matt Fellows

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