Novartis says CEO's holiday home set on fire

ZURICH Tue Aug 4, 2009 11:41am EDT

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ZURICH Aug 4 (Reuters) - The Austrian holiday home of Novartis (NOVN.VX) Chief Executive Daniel Vasella was set on fire early on Monday morning, the latest of a string of attacks on the drugmaker, a spokesman for the Swiss group said on Tuesday.

Austrian police said they had not made any concrete findings yet but said on Monday that they were not ruling out arson.

The Novartis spokesman said that an investigator had told him that a fire accelerant had been found at the scene.

"There have been a series of terrorist-like attacks on individuals and company buildings. Last week, the graves of Dr. Vasella's parents were desecrated and the urn with the ashes of his mother was stolen," the spokesman said.

"In the case of the desecration of the grave, it was animal right activists," he said, adding that the authorities were currently investigating the incident.

He also said that animal rights activists are also suspected of being behind a number of other attacks, including employees' cars being damaged in Germany and Switzerland late last year and early this year as well as a fire at a sports facility in France in May.

"That (sports facility fire) was arson," the spokesman said.

"These groups are against animal testing, which is required in our industry. This is something we try to avoid whenever possible, but it is something we have to do by law," the spokesman said. (Reporting by Katie Reid, with additional reporting by Alexandra Zawadil in Vienna; editing by Karen Foster)

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