In a reprieve for Novartis, the attorney general of Switzerland has decided not to press charges against the Swiss drugmaker over its infamous $1.2 million contract with President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen—at least for now.
The top Swiss prosecutor started eyeing the deal soon after the scandal erupted last month. The office took a closer look after it received a legal complaint calling for criminal charges against Novartis for bribing foreign government officials.
The AG’s decision comes amid an investigation by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, led by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., who demanded answers in a May letter. Responses were due Tuesday, and Wyden’s office told FiercePharma that Novartis had submitted "substantial" information for the committee to review.
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, the information gathered there wasn’t enough to support criminal charges. “The examination failed to confirm that there was sufficient suspicion in relation to the offence of bribery of foreign public officials,” said the AG’s office in a statement shared with FiercePharma. “There was neither sufficient suspicion that the payments were made to a foreign public official nor that there was any link between the payments and any official act.”
The AG’s office also concluded Novartis hadn't bribed private individuals either, “as the payments could not be connected with any act or omission that was contrary to the duties or dependent on the discretion of the recipient,” it added.
The case isn’t necessarily closed completely, though. The office said it might revisit the investigation if any new information or evidence arises. Novartis did not reply to a request for comment by press time.
After porn star Stormy Daniels’ lawyer exposed payments made by several corporations—Novartis included—to Cohen, the drugmaker revealed it had paid $1.2 million to the Trump lawyer under a contract that expired early this year. The company said it hired Cohen for insight on the administration's approach to U.S. healthcare policy.
As widespread criticism rocked the drugmaker, its general counsel, Felix Ehrat—who co-signed the contract last year with then-CEO Joe Jimenez—took responsibility and stepped down. CEO Vas Narasimhan, Jimenez and Ehrat have all acknowledged the contract as a mistake but didn't admit to any legal wrongdoing. Narasimhan and the company maintained throughout that he was not involved.
The Swiss prosecutor’s decision is likely a relief for Novartis, but it's not the end of its Cohen trouble. U.S. lawmakers are still doing their own investigation.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, has said his committee would launch a probe into what he called a “pay-to-play scheme” that “raises the specter of corruption in the White House.” That committee has jurisdiction over federal health programs including Medicare and Medicaid, Wyden says.
In a letter addressed to Narasimhan dated May 11, the U.S. senator laid out 10 requests for documents and answers related to the Cohen deal and demanded a response no later than June 5. A Wyden spokesperson confirmed to FiercePharma on Wednesday that the Finance Committee had received responses from Cohen and Novartis both.
“Novartis is fully cooperating and has provided substantial responses to our letter that will aid the committee’s review and guide our next steps,” the spokesperson said.
Embroiled in several bribery and kickback scandals around the world, Novartis, under newly minted CEO Narasimhan, has taken several steps in the direction of ensuring ethical conduct. He promoted Shannon Thyme Klinger, a former chief ethics officer, to the executive committee and then as the successor to Ehrat, and has promised investors a new guidance on integrity and compliance in the coming months.