The Swiss pharmaceutical company reportedly has a contract manufacturing and distribution deal with Mediterranean Pharmaceutical Industries (MPI), a Syrian drug manufacturer.
A report published on Tuesday revealed that Brenntag, a German chemicals wholesaler exported isopropanol and diethylamine for MPI via its Swiss subsidiary, Brenntag Schweizerhall, in 2014.
Brenntag, which saw its shares fall by 6% after the report was published, confirmed that isopropanol and diethylamine were delivered to Syria via its subsidiary, although "in accordance with applicable law" and "according to the specification of a well-known Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer".
Asked about its potential involvement in the exports, Novartis provided a statement that it supplied MPI with “only the active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) in compliance with applicable sanction laws”, with the APIs supplied to ‘oncology and pharmaceutical innovation medicines units’ in the local market.
The company further noted that MPI had to obtain chemicals, such as isopropanol or diethylamine, from a third-party supplier. Isopropanol and diethylamine can be used for pharmaceutical manufacturing, but also for the production of chemical weapons and nerve agents such as VX and sarin gas, which were used by the Assad regime during the Syrian Civil War.
After several reports of NGOs regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria, the EU placed restrictions on exporting raw materials used to make chemical weapons. Those restrictions also apply for indirect exports through Switzerland.
“In May 2018, we were asked by the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) whether Novartis could be of assistance in obtaining the manufacturing documents from MPI showing that the isopropanol had been used to produce Voltaren Emulgel. Our only role was in the spirit of offering our good services to act as intermediary and to pass on the obtained documents from MPI to SECO for their assessment,” the statement continued.