Trial begins for pharma bad boy Martin Shkreli who jacked up price of HIV drug by 5000%

Martin Shkreli heads into federal court for the beginning of his trial for eight counts of securities and wire fraud.
Martin Shkreli heads into federal court for the beginning of his trial for eight counts of securities and wire fraud. PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK (AFP) - The US securities fraud trial of Martin Shkreli, a former pharmaceutical executive who gained notoriety for jacking up the price of an HIV drug by 5,000 per cent, got under way on Wednesday (June 28) after being delayed over difficulties in finding impartial jurors.

Shkreli, the former boss of Turing Pharmaceuticals, stands accused of lying to investors and running a Ponzi-like scheme across multiple firms.

The charges - which could land him 20 years in prison if convicted - are unrelated to the price hike that brought him widespread public scorn.

His trial had been set to begin in federal court in Brooklyn on Monday, following the selection of jurors, a process that normally takes a few hours. But many potential jurors were ruled out for having overtly negative opinions about the 34-year-old Shkreli.

According to the New York Post, one juror described him as a "snake" while another called him "the face of corporate greed".

Such comments prompted Shkreli's attorney Ben Brafman to demand - in vain - that the trial be called off.

On Wednesday morning, Judge Kiyo Matsumoto summoned a new group of some 150 potential jurors after having to excuse dozens on Monday and Tuesday, prosecutors said, and the court was able to impanel the jurors and alternates needed to proceed.

The prosecutor in the case, Assistant US Attorney Karthik Srinivasan, told the court in opening arguments that Shkreli told "lies upon lies upon lies" to swindle investors.

He allegedly stole US$11 million in stock from his first pharmaceutical company Retrophin to pay off investors who lost money in two of his hedge funds.

But his defence attorney Brafman argued that Shkreli was sidelined from the company not because of corruption but because he did not fit the image of a corporate chief executive.

"You may not like Martin Shkreli. You may have reasons to hate Marin Shkreli, but that is not the basis upon which you can convict Martin Shkreli," he told the jurors.

Shkreli resigned from Turing shortly after his indictment in December 2015, after which he was released from prison on bond.

He earned the label "the most hated man in America" after his astronomical price hike on Daraprim from US$13.50 a pill to US$750.

He smirked through a congressional hearing scrutinising his actions in early 2016, and has since gone on to earn a reputation for an extravagant, self-publicizing lifestyle.

His Twitter account was suspended in January after he was accused of harassing a journalist, though he contended he was banned for his support of President Donald Trump.

Shortly after Trump's election victory, Shkreli leaked a one-of-a-kind album by Wu-Tang Clan, which he bought for US$2 million, with the stipulation that he does not release it commercially for 88 years.