One of Sanofi-Aventis’ main shareholders, the French oil giant Total, says it is looking to divest its stake in the company but is biding its time to see the much-anticipated ruling on Plavix patents pans out.

Total holds a 13% interest in Sanofi which is worth in the region of 12 billion euros ($16.2 billion) and chief executive Christophe de Margerie told the group’s annual general meeting that a sale would take place “probably in the short-term”. However, it was chief financial officer Robert Castaigne who was reported as saying that the timing of any decision will be influenced to some extent by the forthcoming ruling on Sanofi and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s US patent infringement battle with Apotex over the antithrombotic blockbuster Plavix (clopidogrel).

The uncertainty surrounding the Plavix case has been hurting Sanofi’s shares for months now and just the slightest mention that Total was planning to sell its stake led to a further slip. However, most analysts believe that any divesture is unlikely to occur in one whole block.

BMS admits false statements in Plavix case

The news came as B-MS announced that it will plead guilty to two criminal charges as part of an agreement with the US Justice Department to end an antitrust investigation into the company's botched attempt to keep generic Plavix off the market.

The US government has been conducting a criminal investigation into the agreement B-MS and Sanofi wanted to enter into with Apotex, which would have seen the Canadian generic drugmaker refrain from selling its copycat version of the drug until mid-2011. B-MS has pleaded guilty to two counts of making false statements to a government agency, which involved the firm’s attempt to renegotiate with Apotex without disclosing those talks to the Federal Trade Commission. It faces a maximum fine of $1 million.

As is well documented, the agreement with Apotex collapsed and the latter flooded the market with generic clopidogrel for three weeks in August before being blocked by a federal court. The result was more litigation and the removal of B-MS chief executive Peter Dolan.

Speaking about the guilty plea, Mr Dolan’s successor, James Cornelius said that “full compliance with all of the laws and regulations governing our company remains the highest priority for our leadership team, and for me personally.'' He added that “as we move forward with our plans to grow our business and build shareholder value, compliance is an essential pillar that will support all of our goals''.