Susan Walsh / Ap

Indicted ex-CEO Martin Shkreli refuses to answer questions from Congress

Accused of defrauding investors and gauging patients, Shkreli invokes right to remain silent at hearing on drug prices

Members of Congress grilled former pharmaceutical company CEO Martin Shkreli at a hearing on high drug prices on Thursday, but the 32-year-old businessman, who was indicted in December on federal charges of defrauding investors, refused to answer, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee called Shkreli to testify to examine the decision he made while chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals to raise the price of a life-saving drug used to treat HIV patients and pregnant women by 5,000 percent, earning widespread public scorn.

Shkreli was removed from his position at CEO of Turing last December. 

Turing raised the price of the decades-old drug Daraprim from $13.50 a pill to $750 a pill in September. Shkreli insisted that no one would be turned away because of a lack of ability to pay and that all profits would go into research.

After Shkreli's arrest, the company said it would offer steep discounts in the price of the drug to hospitals, but has not reduced it to its original price. Online retail listings for Daraprim show the drug going for as much as $834 per pill, with a 60 pill course of treatment costing over $44,000. 

Nevertheless, Shkreli became the object of widespread ridicule and derision, earning the title of “Pharma Bro” from online commenters. In December, many music fans joined the outrage after Shkreli purchased a one-of-a-kind Wu Tang Clan album, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” at auction for $2 million.

Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican and chairman of the committee, asked Shkreli, “What do you say to that single, pregnant woman, who might have AIDS...no income. She needs Daraprim in order to survive. What do you say to her when she has to make that choice?”

Having already said he was invoking his Fifth Amendment right to not testify, Shkreli gave a terse reply. “On the advice of counsel, I invoke my 5th Amendment privilege against self incrimination and respectfully decline to answer your question,” he said.

“Do you think you’ve done anything wrong?” Chaffetz asked. Shkreli gave the same answer again.

Republican Trey Gowdy of South Carolina criticized Shkreli for choosing to remain silent before Congress while defending himself enthusiastically on social media and on television and documenting his life using a Web camera in his apartment.

“He didn’t have to be prodded to tweet a whole lot or show us his life on that little Web cam he’s got," Gowdy said. He added that Shkreli would not have to answer questions at the hearing about the fraud charges against him and could, instead, talk about music. "We can even talk about the purchase — is it Wu Tang Clan?” Gowdy said. “Is that the name of the album — name of the group?”

Shkreli refused to answer.

Before Chaffetz dismissed him, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, asked Shkreli to lower the price of the drug, which Cummings said hits taxpayers as well as patients, and become an advocate for patients’ rights.

“I truly believe you could become a force of tremendous good," Cummings said. “I beg that you reflect on it. There are so many people that could use your help. May God bless you.”

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