Top Novartis lawyer quits over Cohen deal

The Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis announced Wednesday that a top lawyer who co-signed a $1.2 million contract to hire President Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen will step down in June.

Felix R. Ehrat, group general counsel of Novartis, is retiring “in the context of discussions surrounding Novartis’ former agreement with Essential Consultants, owned by Michael Cohen,” the company said.

“Although the contract was legally in order, it was an error,” Ehrat said in a statement. “As a co-signatory with our former CEO, I take personal responsibility to bring the public debate on this matter to an end.”

The contract has been a major embarrassment for one of the world’s largest drug companies. Its current chief executive, Vasant Narasimhan, who was not involved in the contract, called it a mistake at an event Wednesday with investors and analysts. “The world rightly expects more from a leading health-care company,” Narasimhan said, according to a company news release.

Novartis former chief executive Joseph Jimenez, who initiated the contract, has not responded to multiple requests for comment. He stepped down as chief executive at the end of January.

In an interview with Forbes, Jimenez said an unnamed third party connected him with Cohen. Jimenez said Cohen told him in a phone conversation he could help navigate the Trump administration and the effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

In February 2017, Novartis entered into a year-long $1.2 million contract with Cohen and Essential Consultants.

Carolyn Y. Johnson

French oil firm seeks Iran sanctions waiver

The French oil giant Total threatened Wednesday to pull out of a $2 billion natural gas project in Iran if President Trump does not give it a waiver from sanctions he reimposed on Iran last week.

Total said it was seeking French government support for a license — “a specific project waiver” — from the Trump administration that would protect the company from indirect effects of U.S. sanctions.

Total signed a 20-year contract with Iran on July 4, agreeing to spend at least $2 billion on the South Pars field, an offshore area Iran shares with Qatar. Total would have carried out drilling and built production platforms and subsea pipelines.

But the sanctions Trump reimposed after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal would cover not only U.S. companies but other international firms through “secondary sanctions” limiting transactions in dollars and operations in the U.S. market. “Total has always been clear that it cannot afford to be exposed to any secondary sanction, which might include the loss of financing in dollars by U.S. banks for its worldwide operations,” the company said in a statement on its website. U.S. banks provide more than 90 percent of Total’s financing, the firm said. It noted that U.S. investors represent more than 30 percent of Total shareholders and that Total has invested more than $10 billion in U.S. assets.

Steven Mufson

Also in Business

21st Century Fox's Lachlan Murdoch, eldest son of Rupert Murdoch, will take the helm of the remaining business after a proposed deal to sell most of Fox's entertainment assets to Walt Disney Co. He will be the CEO and chairman at the company, which is being referred to as New Fox. Rupert Murdoch will become co-chairman. The current Fox CEO, Rupert Murdoch's son James Murdoch, is expected to move on after the deal with Disney is completed.

— From news services

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