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Novartis Draws U.S. Investigation Into Sales to Iran

Novartis AG, Europe’s biggest drugmaker by sales, said its Alcon eye-care unit is under U.S. government investigation related to the export of products to Iran and other countries subject to trade sanctions.

Alcon was notified last year that the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Northern District of Texas is conducting an investigation into its sales, Novartis said in a regulatory filing today. The unit, run from Fort Worth, Texas, received a grand jury subpoena for documents dating back to 2005.

Alcon is cooperating with the investigation, according to the filing. The U.S. government has programs that prohibit or limit products made or held in the U.S. from being sold to certain countries, including Iran, Syria and North Korea.

Novartis, based in Basel, Switzerland, took full control of Alcon in 2010 after an 11 month dispute with minority shareholders. Alcon was based in Huenenberg, Switzerland, with U.S. headquarters in Texas. It generated $2.6 billion in sales during the fourth quarter, Novartis said today.

Daniel Vasella, who oversaw the 1996 merger of Sandoz AG and Ciba-Geigy AG that created Novartis, unexpectedly said today he will leave the board after 17 years. Joerg Reinhardt, currently Bayer AG’s top health-care executive, will replace the 59-year-old Vasella as chairman.

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