Controversial US pharma boss denies fraud charges

Martin Shkreli denies securities fraud charges and ‘expects to be fully vindicated’

Martin Shkreli, the former hedge fund manager vilified across America for buying a pharmaceutical company and increasing the price of a life-saving drug has denied securities fraud charges and "expects to be fully vindicated".

The 32-year-old entrepreneur's spokesman Craig Stevens said: "It is no coincidence that these charges, the result of investigations which have been languishing for considerable time, have been filed at the same time of Shkreli's high-profile, controversial and yet unrelated activities."

Mr Shkreli, who has called himself “the world’s most eligible bachelor” on Twitter and recently plunged into the hip-hop world by buying an unreleased album by the group Wu-Tang Clan — was arrested in a grey hoodie and taken into federal court in Brooklyn, where he pleaded not guilty.

He was released on $5 million bail. If convicted, he could serve up to 20 years in prison. He left court without speaking to reporters but hours later, he tweeted: “Glad to be home. Thanks for the support.”


He was charged in a seven-count indictment unconnected to the drug price rises imposed by his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals. The charges instead involve his actions at another drug company, Retrophin, which he ran as chief executive from 2012 to 2014.

The indictment said Mr Shkreli and others orchestrated three inter-related fraud schemes from 2009 to 2014. It said they fraudulently induced investors to sink their money into two separate funds and misappropriated Retrophin’s assets to satisfy Mr Shkreli’s personal and professional debts. He is charged with securities fraud and conspiracy.

A second defendant, lawyer Evan Greebel, of Scarsdale, New York, is charged with conspiracy. He has pleaded not guilty. Mr Shkreli has found himself at the centre of a storm over drug pricing in the last few months and he has not been afraid to throw on more fuel.

It began after Turing Pharmaceuticals, spent $55 million in August for the US rights to sell Daraprim, a 62-year-old drug for a rare parasitic infection, and promptly raised the price from $13.50 to $750 per pill. The drug is the only approved treatment for toxoplasmosis, a disease that mainly strikes pregnant women, cancer patients and Aids patients.

The move sparked outrage that resounded from the presidential campaign to the punk rock world and turned him into the new face of corporate greed. Doctors and medical groups said the price rise was cutting patients off from life-saving treatment, activists protested outside Turing's offices, and the episode helped prompt a Senate hearing on drug prices.

Democratic US presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton called it price gouging and said the company's behaviour was "outrageous". Republican White House hopeful Donald Trump called Shkreli "a spoiled brat" and Bernie Sanders returned a donation from him. Indie record label Collect Records said it was severing ties with Shkreli, who had been an investor.

Mr Shkreli said the company would cut the price of Daraprim. But last month Turing reneged. Instead, the company is reducing what it charges hospitals for Daraprim by as much as 50 per cent. While most patients’ co-payments will be $10 or less a month, insurance companies will be stuck with the bulk of the tab, potentially driving up future treatment and insurance costs.

Mr Shkreli has said that insurance and other programmes allow patients to get the drug despite the cost, and that the profits are helping fund research into new treatments. But he has also unapologetically emphasised a business-is-business argument for the price jump. In fact, he recently said he probably should have raised it more. “No one wants to say it, no one’s proud of it, but this is a capitalist society, a capitalist system and capitalist rules,” he said in an interview at the Forbes Healthcare Summit this month.