Novartis corrects chairman’s comments about kickbacks case

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FILE PHOTO: The logo of Swiss drugmaker Novartis is pictured at the French company's headquarters in Rueil-Malmaison

By John Miller

ZURICH (Reuters) – Novartis on Wednesday had to correct comments made by Chairman Joerg Reinhardt to a Swiss newspaper, because his portrayal of conduct that led to a $678 million U.S. settlement over kickbacks last year risked violating the agreement.

Novartis’s settlement with the U.S. Justice Department in July 2020 resolved decade-old charges that it organised thousands of sham events, lavished doctors with speaker fees and wined and dined them to boost drug prescriptions.

In a SonntagsBlick interview on March 6, however, Reinhardt objected when a reporter said Novartis had bribed U.S. doctors.

“I don’t want to let the term ‘bribery’ stand without comment,” Reinhardt told SonntagsBlick. “Doctors were invited to scientific events. We were possibly here and there too generous.”

Reinhardt’s comments were inaccurate, said Novartis, whose Chief Executive Vas Narasimhan has prioritized boosting Novartis’s ethics performance, including by revising bonus schemes, after scandals over two decades that have cost it some $2 billion hurt its reputation.

“Mr. Reinhardt described the programs as scientific events and stated that the company may have been too generous on occasion to the doctors in attendance,” Novartis said in a statement.

“These comments were inaccurate and inconsistent with the admissions of conduct that Novartis made in its settlement agreement.”

Based on its commitments under the settlement, Novartis said it proactively contacted the U.S. Justice Department after concluding Reinhardt’s interview comments were inaccurate and issued the correction after discussions with prosecutors over remedying the issue.

“Mr. Reinhardt’s statements were not intended to minimize or dispute Novartis’ admissions of conduct,” Novartis said, adding that Reinhardt also offered reassurances in the SonntagsBlick interview that the alleged U.S. practices ‘are history and will not be repeated.’ “

“Novartis reiterates fully the acknowledgements it made in its agreement,” the company added.

In its U.S. settlement, Novartis was required to reduce paid-speaker programs and hold them virtually, to reduce potential improprieties.

(Reporting by John Miller;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

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