Drugmaker Novartis ties payments made to Trump’s lawyer to former CEO

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Novartis AG is among the companies reacting to reports that they made payments to a consulting company created by Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.

And the Swiss drugmaker’s response is essentially that its deal with Cohen’s Essential Consultants has nothing to do with its current management team.

“In February 2017, Novartis entered into a one-year agreement with Essential Consultants shortly after the election of President Trump,” and the deal was “focused on U.S. health-care policy matters,” Novartis said in a statement.

“The terms were consistent with the market. The agreement expired in February 2018,” the company added.

“The engagement of Essential Consultants predated Vas Narasimhan becoming Novartis CEO. Dr. Narasimhan had no involvement whatsoever with this arrangement.”

Narasimhan became the drugmaker’s CEO on Feb. 1, taking the reins from Joe Jimenez. Jimenez stepped down after leading the pharmaceutical giant through a tumultuous eight years marked by big patent expiries and intensifying scrutiny on drug pricing in the U.S.

Before scoring the CEO job, Narasimhan served as the company’s global head of drug development and chief medical officer. He joined Novartis NOVN, -0.87% in 2005 after a stint with consultancy McKinsey & Co.

The reports about companies paying Cohen’s firm have come as a memo on the topic was released on Twitter by Michael Avenatti, a lawyer for former porn star Stephanie Clifford. Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, has alleged she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006.

Avenatti’s memo claims that Novartis made payments to Cohen in late 2017 and early 2018 totaling $399,920. AT&T T, -0.63% paid him $200,000, Avenatti also alleged.

Read more: AT&T confirms it paid Cohen’s company for ‘insights’ into Trump administration

And see: Mueller’s team questions Russian oligarch about payments to Cohen

Novartis this week also is acknowledging that it has been contacted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team, which has been investigating Russia’s role in the U.S. presidential election.

“Novartis was contacted in November 2017 by lawyers from the special counsel’s office regarding the company’s agreement with Essential Consultants,” the Basel-based company said.

“Novartis cooperated fully with the special counsel’s office and provided all the information requested. Novartis considers this matter closed as to itself and is not aware of any outstanding questions regarding the agreement.”

Shares in Novartis slipped 0.8% on Wednesday, as the Stoxx Europe 600 Index SXXP, +0.26% gained 0.3%. The stock is down 2.5% over the past 12 months, while the Stoxx 600 has fallen 1.2%.