ZURICH (Reuters) - Novartis’ (NOVN.S) top lawyer Felix Ehrat is leaving the Swiss drugmaker, saying a $1.2 million contract he co-signed with U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney was a mistake.
The contract with Michael Cohen’s Essential Consultants, the same firm used to pay porn star Stormy Daniels, has distracted Novartis’s efforts to improve its image.
“Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error,” Ehrat, 60, said on Wednesday. “As a co-signatory with our former CEO, I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end.”
Novartis ended the $100,000-per-month contract, signed in early 2017 by Ehrat and former Novartis Chief Executive Joe Jimenez, this year. It was part of efforts to learn more about how the Trump administration might approach U.S. healthcare, Novartis said.
U.S. lawmakers have demanded Novartis and AT&T (T.N), which also made payments to Cohen’s firm, provide details and Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, has initiated an investigation.
Ehrat, Novartis’s general counsel since 2011, had been expected to leave within the next 1-1/2 years, while Jimenez stepped down on Feb. 1 and was replaced by Vas Narasimhan.
Novartis has said Narasimhan had nothing to do with the Cohen contract and Chairman Joerg Reinhardt said that the board of directors was not aware of it at the time it was signed.
Ehrat will be replaced by chief ethics officer Shannon Klinger who Narasimhan elevated to the executive committee this year as he made cultural change a priority. Novartis said she had not been aware of the Cohen