Mueller’s Team Questioned Swiss Drug Company Over Payments To Trump Lawyer
A Swiss pharmaceutical company acknowledged on Wednesday that it was contacted late last year by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office about payments to Michael Cohen, the personal attorney for Donald Trump.
Mueller’s team contacted the company, Novartis, in November regarding nearly $400,000 in payments to Essential Consultants, a shell company operated by Cohen. The company said in a statement that it hired Cohen’s company on a one-year contract aimed at understanding the U.S. health care market.
“Novartis cooperated fully with the special counsel’s office and provided all the information requested,” the firm said in a statement sent to reporters on Wednesday. “Novartis considers this matter closed as to itself and is not aware of any outstanding questions regarding the agreement.” (RELATED: Michael Cohen Received $500K From Russian Oligarch Shortly After The Election)
The payments were revealed on Tuesday by Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, the porn star who alleges that she had an affair with Trump in 2006. Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 in Oct. 2016 to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
Several other businesses paid Essential Consultants, according to records published by Avenatti. AT&T acknowledged Tuesday that it paid Cohen’s company $200,000 to “provide insights into understanding the new administration.”
Columbus Nova LLC., a firm linked to Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg, paid Cohen’s company nearly $500,000 from January 2017 to August 2017. Avenatti asserted, without citing evidence, that the payments could have been reimbursement for Cohen’s payment to Daniels. Columbus Nova disputed that claim in a statement, saying that Cohen was hired as “a business consultant regarding potential sources of capital and potential investments in real estate and other ventures.”
Vekselberg and his cousin, Andrew Intrater, the chairman of Columbus Nova, have been questioned by Mueller’s team about the payments. Vekselberg was questioned two months ago after arriving in New York on a private plane, CNN and The New York Times have reported.
The payments are sure to add to Cohen’s legal problems. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan is currently investigating the longtime Trump ally for bank fraud and potential campaign finance violations.
One question likely to be explored by investigators is whether the payments to Cohen were made in exchange for access to Trump.
Cohen’s business relationship with Vekselberg’s company has also generated theories regarding possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government. Vekselberg, a billionaire, is reportedly close to Russian president Vladimir Putin. Vekselberg was one of the Russian oligarchs sanctioned by the Treasury Department last month over Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.