Shkreli invokes Fifth Amendment before Congress

Martin Shkreli, former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals LLC, prepares to testify before a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on "Developments in the Prescription Drug Market Oversight" on Capitol Hill in Washington February 4. Reuters

Former Turing Pharmaceuticals Chief Executive Officer Martin Shkreli invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer questions on Thursday from U.S. lawmakers interested in why the company raised the price of a lifesaving medicine by 5,000 percent.

Shkreli, 32, sparked outrage last year among patients, medical societies and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton after Turing raised the price of 62-year-old Daraprim to $750 a pill from $13.50.

The medicine, used to treat a parasitic infection, once sold for $1 a pill.

At a hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Shkreli sat at a table with arms crossed and repeatedly declined to answer questions about the effects of the price hike on patients.

"I intend to follow the advice of my counsel, not yours," Shkreli told Rep. Trey Gowdy, a South Carolina Republican.

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says no person shall be compelled in any criminal case "to be a witness against himself."

Shkreli was arrested in December and charged with running his investment funds and companies almost like a Ponzi scheme. He has pleaded not guilty, stepped down from Turing and was fired from KaloBios Pharmaceuticals Inc.

U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings reprimanded Shkreli for appearing to laugh during the Maryland Democrat's opening statement. "It's not funny, Mr. Shkreli," Cummings said.

Wearing a sports jacket and collared shirt, Shkreli responded to questions by continuing to laugh, twirling a pencil and yawning.

Cummings added a few minutes later: "You can go down as the poster boy for greedy drug company executives, or you can change the system."

Shkreli was allowed to leave the hearing early after he repeated that he would not answer any questions at all.

Representative John Mica, a Florida Republican, said he would consider asking fellow lawmakers to hold Shkreli in contempt for his behavior.

"I don't think I've ever seen the committee treated with such contempt," Mica said.

Turing Chief Commercial Officer Nancy Retzlaff told the House hearing that Turing acquired Daraprim because it was "priced far below its market value" and that the company was committed to investing revenue into new treatments.

The Federal Trade Commission and the New York attorney general are investigating Turing for possible antitrust violations.