Novartis is a global pharmaceutical giant that's headquartered in Switzerland, employs 126,000 people, and pulls in $50 billion a year making newfangled drugs, including the medication that ought to be handed out like candy to the American media in the hyperactive age of Donald Trump: Ritalin. But this icon of Big Pharma prefers to deal with politicians the old-fashioned way.
It buys them.
At least that's the knock on Novartis in places like Greece -- when a decade-long bribery scheme that involved two prime ministers and several cabinet members was described by a government official there as "the biggest scandal since the creation of the Greek state" -- or China, where Novartis has been accused of paying doctors to prescribe its drugs, or Turkey, where Novartis is linked to a consulting firm that may have kicked back money to government officials.
Does any of this sound familiar? It should, because there's growing evidence that Novartis used the same heavy-handed tactics to gain access and influence with the despotic ruler of a backwater banana republic called the United States of America.
It was revealed last week, in a bizarre fashion, that Novartis had paid President Trump's lawyer and self-described "consigliere," Michael Cohen, some $1.2 million over the course of 2017 in order to pick the brains of Cohen -- taxi-medallion king, phone-threatener extraordinaire, and graduate of America's Worst Law School -- for high-level strategy on complex issues like drug-pricing policy.
Or maybe it was because Cohen is one of a handful of people who can speed dial Trump's personal cellphone. If so, it was slightly depressing to learn that the White House can be bought so cheaply. AT&T, the world's largest telecommunications firm, paid just $600,000 over roughly the same period of time for Cohen's deep insights into the button-down mind of our current president, while Korean Aerospace cited the New York attorney's skill in accounting as why it sent him a $150,000 check last fall, right after the Pentagon delayed a massive Air Force jet-trainer contract the firm is up for. You can draw your own conclusion about the $500,000 linked to a Russian oligarch.