Ex-AstraZeneca executive Luke Miels accuses CEO Soriot of threatening him for taking GSK job

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AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot is alleged in court documents to have threatened the visa of his long-tine protégé Luke Miels when he announced he would join rival British drugmaker GSK.

Former AstraZeneca executive Luke Miels will start his new job at crosstown rival GlaxoSmithKline in a few weeks, but the path between is littered with accusations and retorts that illustrate how personal and nasty the defection of a top executive can be.

AstraZeneca accused Miels of misusing confidential info and documents to win the top pharma job at GSK, while Miels claimed his former mentor, AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, took his decision personally and threatened him over his visa when he turned down a counteroffer to stay, reported The Times, citing court documents it obtained.

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The two met at the former Aventis in 2003, The Times reports, and then Miels followed Soriot to Roche and then to AstraZeneca, where Miels rose to the position of VP of European pharma. So at an April meeting, several months after Miels gave notice, things allegedly got personal. At that point, GSK and Miels had indicated he would assume his new role on July 10 while AstraZeneca contended he had to wait for a year to join a rival.

Miels contended that Soriot got “agitated” and reminded him “that the work visa permitting him and his family to live in the UK had been sponsored by the claimant. This was a threat by Mr Soriot which was intended to, and did, unsettle Mr Miels,” The Times reports, citing documents from the litigation. 

Miels’s attorneys also argued that AstraZeneca was in no position to complain about him using some AstraZeneca documents in his job negotiations since AstraZeneca had shared confidential info with Soriot before he left Roche.

AstraZeneca denied the “hyperbolic allegations” that Soriot threatened to punish Miels. The two fierce competitors reached a settlement last month that allows Miels to start at GSK in early September.

RELATED: GlaxoSmithKline gets AstraZeneca to finally release former executive Miels, in two more months

His departure does come at a pivotal point for both companies. AstraZeneca is being closely watched by investors who want to know if Soriot will finally be able to show that his rejection of a $120 billion buyout by Pfizer and a bet on the company’s pipeline were smart moves.

GSK is facing its own uncertainties as new CEO Emma Walmsley has taken over from Andrew Witty, who departed in April. Today, GSK shares were battered after Citigroup forecast an earning hit of up to 9% and downgraded the stock to neutral from buy because of what it sees as a threat to GSK’s HIV business from a new treatment being developed by Merck.