Novartis Cohen Payments Subject of Swiss Prosecutor Talks

(Bloomberg) -- Switzerland’s Attorney General is in discussions with local prosecutors in the hometown of Novartis AG about payments the drugmaker made to Michael Cohen, the troubled lawyer for Donald Trump.

The Office of the Attorney General and Basel Prosecutor’s Office are both aware of the payments and are in contact about the matter, spokespeople for the agencies said in separate statements Monday. The Attorney General said it hasn’t opened any criminal proceedings in relation to the issue.

Novartis Chief Executive Officer Vas Narasimhan said last week that the drugmaker “made a mistake” in signing up lawyer Michael Cohen to give the company insight on Trump’s health-care plans. The payments have come under unusual scrutiny because because they were made into a Delaware shell company through which Cohen paid hush money to a porn star who said she had an affair with Trump.

The issue has become a political touchpoint in the U.S., and Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, asked Narasimhan to explain what Novartis was hoping to achieve with its $1.2 million in payments to Cohen. Novartis hired Cohen’s company in 2017 when Joe Jimenez was running the Basel-based drugmaker. The company said it quickly determined that Cohen’s firm was unable to provide the services it anticipated, but was contractually obligated to keep paying Cohen’s firm through February 2018. That same month, Narasimhan took over from Jimenez as CEO.

Novartis has said it fully cooperated in providing information requested by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller as he probes suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election won by Trump. A Novartis spokesman said Monday that the company hasn’t been contacted by Swiss prosecutors, declining to comment further.

Other groups that paid money into Cohen’s Essential Consultants LLC include AT&T Inc. and Columbus Nova. That’s a unit of Renova, an investment vehicle for Russian tycoon Viktor Vekselberg, who is among those sanctioned by the U.S. to punish Russia for its suspected election meddling and aggression in Ukraine and Crimea.

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